In this chapter, we consider the Court’s definition of “seizure” for Fourth Amendment purposes. The common meaning of “seizure”—to take possession of a thing or person by force or by legal process—provides some insight to the term’s meaning in constitutional law. But as is true for other terms of art, such as “search,” the dictionary definition is not identical to the doctrinal meaning. We also consider when police may conduct arrests.
What Is a Seizure?
Just as something cannot be an “unreasonable search” without being a “search,” something cannot be an “unreasonable seizure” without being a “seizure.” Arrests are easily deemed “seizures” of the persons arrested. A variety of less invasive police tactics, however, have required more subtle analysis.