You may know that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects you from unreasonable actions of South Carolina police during a search or seizure. However, perhaps you do not fully understand what it means to have police “seize” you. Does it mean that they have physically put their hands on you? Are you still under seizure if you struggle free and run away?
These are some of the questions the U.S. Supreme Court must decide as they currently examine a claim of excessive force against police officers. Although the incident took place in another state, its decision may have serious ramifications across the country.
The case before the court
A woman filed a lawsuit against state police after they shot her twice in her car as she drove away from their attempts to arrest her. She claims the officers’ use of their weapons was unreasonable seizure. However, the officers assert that they never physically touched her or had control of her, so there was no actual seizure. The question the court must decide is whether shooting someone counts as a seizure. Of course, you may realize that the bigger picture includes many more questions.
When police put their hands on someone, the law considers that a seizure even if they do not maintain control of the suspect. Some argue the same should be true when police draw their weapons against a suspect. Bullets that strike another person are just another way for police to touch that person, just as when someone hits you with a stick or throws something at you.
Should police in this case face charges of excessive force or unreasonable seizure even if they never touched the woman with their hands? Will the court refine the definition of seizure to include cases only when the officers hit their targets? Will an officer escape allegations of using unreasonable force if he or she shoots at someone but misses? Will the decision prompt police to use their weapons more frequently as a means of seizing a suspect?
While the court ponders these questions, you may have your own questions to worry about, especially if you have criminal charges to face. As soon as you encounter police, your Fourth Amendment rights are on the line. A violation of those rights may lead to serious, negative consequences, so you would be wise to have a strong legal advocate on your side.