Supreme Court Rules in Excessive Force Case

Suit against law enforcement involves Fourth Amendment.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that police can be sued for using excessive force, even when it fails to stop someone from fleeing. The case involved a New Mexico woman who drove away from a parking lot when police approached to question her. She thought the police might be carjackers and sped away. The police officers fired 13 shots, hitting her twice in the back. The woman sued, claiming the police used excessive force, making the shooting unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable seizures.

“The police said it wasn’t a seizure, since she wasn’t stopped by their gunfire,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for the majority. But the opinion said it was a seizure nonetheless. He said the law has long held that the use of force intended to restrain amounts to a seizure, even if the person escapes.

The chief justice stressed, however, that the ruling “does not transform every physical contact between a government employee and a member of the public into a Fourth Amendment seizure.”  He said the decision says nothing about the use of other forms of force by law enforcement, such as pepper spray, flash-bang grenades, or lasers.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett took no part in deciding the case as it had been heard before she was seated.

The court’s decision will make it easier to bring lawsuits over excessive police force at a time when the nation has been questioning the need for reforms in law enforcement.

As the Lord Leads, Pray with Us…

  • For wisdom for national courts as this decision may encourage more lawsuits against law enforcement.
  • For protection for peace officers and other law enforcement officials as the ruling potentially impacts their interactions with the public.

Sources: NBC News, Reuters


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