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Lesson Plan: Torres v. Madrid

Roxanne Torres v. Janice Madrid and Richard Williamson

10th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision: May 2, 2019. Certiorari Granted by the United States Supreme Court on December 18, 2019. Oral Argument Scheduled for October 14, 2020 Supreme Court Docket No. 18-2134.

The Parties


The Question Presented

Is an unsuccessful attempt to detain a suspect by use of physical force a “seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment or must physical force be successful in detaining a suspect to constitute a “seizure”?


Case Background

On July 15, 2014, two New Mexico State Police officers went to an apartment complex in Albuquerque to arrest a woman. At the complex, Officers Janice Madrid and Richard Williamson saw a woman, Roxanne Torres, standing near a Toyota FJ Cruiser. At the time, Torres had used methamphetamine, and was “tripping out.” The officers approached Torres. In response, Torres entered her vehicle, and started the engine. Both officers observed that Torres was making “furtive” and “aggressive” movements. Torres didn’t realize that Madrid and Williamson were police officers. Indeed, Torres thought she was being carjacked. Torres “freaked out,” and “put the car into drive.” Both officers drew their guns. When Torres stepped on the gas, both officers fired their guns at the vehicle. Two bullets struck Torres, but she kept driving. Later, Torres stole another car, and drove 75 miles to a hospital in Grants, New Mexico. Torres was later airlifted to a hospital in Albuquerque. At the hospital, Torres was finally arrested on July 16, 2014.

In 2016, Torres sued Williamson and Madrid for violating her Fourth Amendment rights. Torres argued that the officers used “excessive force” to seize her. The district court concluded that the “officers had not seized Torres at the time of the shooting, and without a seizure, there could be no Fourth Amendment violation.”

In 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed: “Torres failed to show she was seized by the officers’ use of force.” The Court observed that “despite being shot, Torres did not stop or otherwise submit to the officers’ authority.” Torres was not taken into custody until a day after she was shot. Under the Circuit’s precedent, “a suspect’s continued flight after being shot by police negates a Fourth Amendment excessive-force claim.” The Court observed that a seizure for purposes of the Fourth Amendment “requires restraint of one’s freedom of movement.” The police can only effect a “seizure” when the gunshot terminates the suspect’s movement or otherwise causes the government to have physical control over him.” Williamson and Madrid shot Torres, but failed to control her ability to escape. Torres “managed to elude police for at least a full day after being shot.” Therefore, there was no “seizure” for purposes of the Fourth Amendment.

Torres petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. The Supreme Court granted review in December 2019. The case will be argued on October 14, 2020.


The Law

U.S. Constitution, Amendment IV:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”


Supreme Court Cases


Supreme Court Briefs


Primary Sources

James Otis, Arguments Against Writs of Assistance (February 1761):

“And I take this opportunity to declare, that . . . I will to my dying day oppose, with all the powers and faculties God has given me, all such instruments of slavery on the one hand, and villainy on the other, as this writ of assistance is. it appears to me . . .  the worst instrument of arbitrary power, the most destructive of English liberty, and the fundamental principles of the constitution, that ever was found in the English law-book. . . . Your Honours will find in the old book, concerning the office of a justice of peace, precedents of general warrants to search suspected houses. But in more modern books you will find only special warrants to search such and such houses specially named, in which the complainant has before sworn he suspects his goods are concealed; and you will find in adjudged that special warrants only are legal. In the same manner I rely on it, that the writ prayed for in this petition being general is illegal. It is a power that places the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer.”

George Mason, Virginia Declaration of Rights (unanimously adopted June 12, 1776):

“[G]eneral warrants, whereby any officer or messenger may be commanded to search suspected places without evidence of a fact committed, or to seize any person or persons not named, or whose offence is not particularly described and supported by evidence, are grievous and oppressive, and ought not to be granted.”

Massachusetts Declaration of Rights (enacted 1780 as part of state constitution):

“Every subject has a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches, and seizures of his person, his houses, his papers, and all his possessions. All warrants, therefore, are contrary to this right, if the cause or foundation of them be not previously supported by oath or affirmation; and if the order in the warrant to a civil officer, to make search in suspected places, or to arrest one or more suspected persons, or to seize their property, be not accompanied with a special designation of the persons or objects of search, arrest, or seizure: and no warrant ought to be issued but in cases, and with the formalities, prescribed by the laws.”

To the Farmers and Planters of Maryland, Md. J., Apr. 1, 1788, reprinted in 5 The Complete Anti-Federalist:

“Nay, they often search the clothes, petticoats and pockets of ladies or gentlemen (particularly when they are coming from on board an East India ship), and if they find any the least article that you cannot prove the duty to be paid on, seize it and carry it away with them; who are the very scum and refuse of mankind, who value not their oaths, and will break them for a shilling.”

New York Ratification Convention Debates and Proceedings (July 19, 1788):

“[E]very freeman has a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches and seizures of his person, his papers, or his property; and therefore that all warrants to search suspected places, or seize any freeman, his papers or property, without information upon oath, or affirmation of sufficient cause, are grievous and oppressive; and that all general warrants (or such in which the place or person suspected, are not particularly designated) are dangerous and ought not to be granted.”

James Madison, “Bill of Rights as Proposed” (March 4, 1789):

“Article the sixth. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Secondary Sources


Tournament Instructions


Using historical materials related to the Fourth Amendment, and the precedents of the United States Supreme Court, teams of two high school students will write an appellate brief addressing this question.  

The Brief:

Coaches can register their teams at the Institute of Competition Sciences. After registering, teachers should contact the Harlan Institute and Ashbrook at info@HarlanInstitute.org, and we will randomly assign teams to argue on behalf of the Petitioner or the Respondents.

Teams will upload their briefs to the Institute of Competition Sciences page in PDF format. Please download this template. The brief should have the following sections:

  1. Table of Cited Authorities: List all of the original sources, and other documents you cite in your brief.
  2. Summary of Argument: State your position succinctly in 250 words or less.
  3. Argument: Structure your argument based on at least two primary historical sources and at least three Supreme Court precedents. The more authorities you cite, the stronger your argument will be–and the more likely your team will advance.
  4. Conclusion: Summarize your argument, and argue how the Supreme Court should decide this issue.

The brief should be submitted by February 22, 2021. The brief must be a minimum of 2,000 words. Please review the winning briefs from from previous years:

Be sure to proofread your work. The work must be yours, and you may not seek help from anyone else–including attorneys or law students. Students who submit plagiarized briefs will be disqualified.

Preliminary Oral Arguments:

In addition to the brief, each team must submit a YouTube video of their preliminary oral arguments. A link to the videos must be uploaded to the Institute of Competition Sciences by Monday, February 22, 2021. Each argument must be at least ten minutes in length.

Coaches will ask their students the following five questions:

  1. At what point does a police officer effect a seizure for purposes of the Fourth Amendment?
  2. What was a common law arrest?
  3. Did California v. Hodari D. (1991) hold that the Fourth Amendment encompassed the common-law definition of arrest?
  4. Was the police officers’ shooting of Torres “reasonable”?
  5. How should the original public meaning of the Fourth Amendment affect the analysis in this case?

You can view past rounds of oral arguments at these links:

Oral Arguments Semifinals

The top sixteen teams will advance to the oral argument semifinals, which will be held virtually over Zoom in April 2021. Oral arguments will be judged based on our scoring rubric. More information will be provided about the semifinals after the briefs are submitted. You can see the videos from the 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 competitions.

Oral Arguments Championship Round

Historically, the final round of the Virtual Supreme Court Competition has been held at the Georgetown Supreme Court Institute in Washington, D.C. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot plan an in-person gathering. As a result, we will host the championship round over Zoom in May 2021. The competition will be judged by a panel of expert judges, including lawyers, university level debate champions, and legal scholars.

The Prizes

Grand Prize – The Solicitors General of FantasySCOTUS

The members of top Petitioner and Respondent teams will be invited to attend the Ashbrook Academy on the Supreme Court and the Constitution in June 2021. Ashbrook will cover reasonable travel costs to the academy. Members of the winning team will each receive a $500 Amazon gift card. Members of the runner-up team will each receive a $250 Amazon.com gift card.


Members of the sixteen semifinalist teams will each receive a $25 Amazon.com gift card.


Ask your teacher to sign up your class at the Institute for Competition Sciences.  Good luck.

Please send any questions to info@harlaninstitute.org.