The Court has already heard argument in one street law enforcement case, and this past week has agreed to hear two more. And, it is still early in the term.
We will be watching these cases:
Torres v. Madrid, Docket No. 19-292: On October 14th, the Court heard argument on the meaning of the Fourth Amendment’s term, “seizure.” The nation’s courts are split on the question: “does the shooting of a suspect constitute a Fourth Amendment seizure even if the force does not immediately result in custody?”
In 2014, thinking she was a suspect for whom they had an arrest warrant, New Mexico officers approached Roxanne Torres while she was in her car. Torres later testified that she did not hear any commands, saw the officers’ guns but did not recognize the officers in their dark clothing, and thought she was being carjacked. Torres drove away and the officers fired 13 shots, two hitting Torres. She crashed into another car, told bystanders to call 911, then without permission took an unattended running car and drove herself 75 miles to a hospital. Officers arrested her the next day, and Torres later pled no contest to aggravated flee and elude, assault a law enforcement officer, and car theft.
Torres sued the officers alleging the Fourth Amendment violation of using excessive force. The officers’ defense was that because an excessive force claim requires a seizure, and there was no seizure, there could be no claim. The federal district court agreed, and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. Torres appealed and the justices should make a decision after the first of the year.
Caniglia v. Strom, Docket No. 20-157: Following a domestic dispute involving a firearm and alleged mental instability, Rhode Island officers convinced Caniglia to go to a hospital for evaluation. Before the officers left the marital home, and after discussions with the spouse, officers were concerned with everyone’s future safety, entered the home and removed two firearms. Caniglia sued the officers for the alleged Fourth Amendment violation of entering his home without permission and without a search warrant. The officers defense was that their actions were protective and should be seen as valid under the “community caretaking” search warrant exception. The federal district court granted summary judgment to the officers, and the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Interestingly, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter sat by designation on the circuit court of appeals panel that voted 3-0 to affirm the officers’ position. Caniglia appealed and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case this term.
U.S. v. Cooley, Docket No. 19-1414: Just after midnight on U.S. 212 in Montana, a stretch of highway that passes through the Crow Tribe reservation, a tribal officer stopped to check on a pickup sitting on the side of the road with its motor running. After some interaction between the officer and the driver, Cooley, the officer arrested Cooley and searched the truck. Cooley was charged in federal court with weapons and drug charges. Cooley filed a motion to suppress the evidence found because he alleged that the tribal officer did not have authority to detain and search a non-tribe member on a road within a reservation. The district court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. The government appealed and the Supreme Court will decide the matter after the first of the year.
This case may well not have much practical effect in Kansas since K.S.A. 22-2401a provides for Tribal Officer authority and for interlocal agency agreements. We will wait and see.