In The News

In The News

Monday, March 29, 2021

US Supreme Court Issues New Case on 4th Amendment

By Michael Nichols
Categories: Michael J. Nichols

The definition of a "seizure" was tackled by the United States Supreme Court in what sounds like a bizarre set of facts that are stranger than fiction. The case is Torres v Madrid (No 19-292; Argued Oct 14, 2020; Decided March 25, 2021) and it involves a scenario in which police literally shot Ms. Torres as she was fleeing from them but she kept right on driving. She was hospitalized in another town from her gunshot wounds - but she was hurt so badly that she was airlifted to the only hospital that could treat her injuries: the hospital right back in Albuquerque - which is exactly the town from which she fled from police.

By the way - the New Mexico State Police involved fired their service weapons 13 times at Ms. Torres. She sued claiming excessive force. The officers moved for what is called "summary judgment" in federal court and the court agreed that the act of flight negated the excessive force claim.

The narrow issue decided by the Court (SCOTUS) was whether or not the act of using their weapons to exert force was a "seizure" regardless of the fact that it was not successful.

SCOTUS, in an opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts, reached way back to the ancient English legal authority for examples and instances of seizures that were described in public cases. The Court held that the act of using force with the intention to restrain a person is a seizure.

Torres could very well be back before SCOTUS in the future because the Court specifically ruled that the decision did not resolve the issue of whether the amount of force used was excessive or whether the officers are entitled to qualified immunity - which is another hot issue that may land Ms. Torres back in the nation's highest court.

Another interesting point is that Ms. Torres was not a target - she was in a parking lot of a building where officers were looking for another person who was the subject of an arrest warrant. Ms. Torres was on a methamphetamine withdrawal and - shall we say - not herself.

Whether this could be applied to SFSTs and arrests without warrants in OWI or other criminal cases may also be played out in trial courts throughout the country including Michigan.

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Peer Recognition

Mike Nichols is a national leader in drunk driving defense. He is a member of the Forensic Committee and Michigan delegate to the National College for DUI Defense. He is also a Sustaining Member of the College. Nichols is also a founding member of the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys; a member of the American Chemical Society; an associate member of he American Academy of Forensic Science, Adjunct Professor of Forensic Evidence in Criminal Law and OWI Law and Practice at Cooley Law School. He is also author of the West OWI Practice book and several chapters in other books on science and the law.

Mike Nichols is recognized by his peers in Michigan as a “SuperLawyer” in DUI/Criminal Defense. Nichols has also been asked to speak at conferences by groups such as the NCDD; Various Bar Associations in other states.