Indiana police may soon have more specific requirements for abiding by the Fourth Amendment definition of “seizure” of a crime suspect. The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments regarding exactly when a person’s status changes from free to “seized” by police. The Fourth Amendment case stems from a New Mexico incident in which a woman drove away from police who had entered a residential apartment community.

Woman feared for her safety

While police can detain someone and arrest them if necessary, the point at which someone is “seized” is highly questionable. The New Mexico case being decided by the Supreme Court involves a woman who was inside her idling car when the local police arrived for an apparently unrelated matter. Some officers noticed the woman sitting in an idling vehicle and approached it with the intent of questioning her, but she drove off.

Two officers fired their sidearms at her vehicle and struck her twice. The woman later said she thought she was about to become the victim of a carjacking, feared for her life and drove off. She sought emergency medical treatment some 75 miles away. Two years afterward, she filed the civil suit now before the Supreme Court. She accuses the police of unreasonable seizure in violation of her Fourth Amendment right against such an offense.

‘Reasonable’ standard likely will decide the matter

A federal district court and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals both ruled the police did not violate the Fourth Amendment by unreasonably seizing the plaintiff. On its surface, the case comes down to when a “reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” However, previous cases have established that a suspect is not seized until actually caught. The defendant police officers say the woman was not truly seized as she was ultimately able to leave.

The civil law case before the Supreme Court has criminal law implications. An experienced attorney in Bloomington can help explain the ramifications to clients who have found themselves in similar situations or other questionable encounters with local, state or federal law enforcement.