The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides the people with some of the most important protections against police misconduct. Among other things, it prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. While courts have long disagreed about what counts as “unreasonable” behavior on the part of the police, it is well established that police brutality during an arrest can be a violation of a person’s Fourth Amendment rights.
But what if the person is not arrested? Is police brutality still a violation of that person’s Fourth Amendment rights? A case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court could decide this issue.
The case involves a woman who was shot by state police officers as she drove away from them. The police, dressed in dark gear, had come to a housing complex looking for someone else when they found her sitting in her car with the engine running. When police approached the vehicle, they startled the woman, who thought they might be trying to steal her car. When she drove off to escape them, police fired 13 shots at her.
Later, the woman filed a lawsuit against the police officers who shot her, claiming that they had harmed her in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights. In some ways, the case presents issues that are typical of police brutality lawsuits. The issue that makes this case unusual is the simple fact that the woman was not arrested. Courts have not conclusively decided whether a person waives their Fourth Amendment rights when they flee from police.
The Supreme Court will not hear the case until October, but it fits many of the issues that so many Americans have been talking about this summer. It also exposes the strengths and weaknesses of our constitutional protections and the dangers of giving police too much discretion in the use of force.
Civil rights law is complicated and fast-changing. People who have been mistreated by the police should speak to a skilled attorney with experience in this area of the law as soon as they can.