Just when a person transitions from an innocent bystander to a viable criminal suspect or person of interest whom police may “seize” could be decided in a pending U.S. Supreme Court case. Due to car jackings and violent assaults, many people who otherwise would be simple bystanders might find themselves ensnared in a legal predicament that was not their doing. People acting reasonably while fleeing a potentially dangerous situation in Texas could be accused of accused of fleeing and eluding police or worse.
Police sometimes scare bystanders
The Supreme Court case involves a woman in New Mexico who was backed into a parking space with her vehicle idling at an apartment complex. Police suddenly appeared and tried to question her, which spooked the driver and caused her to accelerate away. She later said she thought criminals were trying to commit a car jacking by stealing her SUV, and she fled.
Police fired at fleeing driver
Two police officers on the scene said they thought the driver was trying to run them over and feared for their lives, so they fired their weapons and struck the driver twice. She still drove away and shortly afterward swapped vehicles with an unsuspecting driver who had left a car running while unattended at a nearby parking lot. The women drove the car to a hospital to treat her wounds, and police arrested her there a day later.
Fourth Amendment seizure definition argued
The woman eventually filed a federal civil suit accusing the police officers of unlawfully discharging their firearms. The Supreme Court in an earlier case said that law enforcement has “seized” someone when a reasonable person would understand that he or she is not free to leave. A subsequent ruling said that a person is not seized until actually caught and detained, even while fleeing law enforcement. The current case likely will bridge that gap and could impact many criminal cases.
The conflicting rulings and Supreme Court cases show the clear need to for someone with criminal charges to ensure that their rights have not been violated by police. An experienced Texas criminal defense attorney may work to uphold their client’s rights.