In a decision that has many in the legal community stunned, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday in a 5-3 decision that evidence obtained as a result of an illegal detainment and search can still be admitted towards prosecuting a crime if the suspect has an outstanding warrant.
During a routine DUI checkpoint, for instance, the officer can search and find evidence of any crime if the driver has so much as an unpaid parking ticket.
Writing a scathing and impassioned dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor cautioned that the decision would have far-reaching implications that completely undermine the principles of due process and the exclusionary rule.
She was especially concerned that police abuse towards disadvantaged people and especially people of color would worsen now that officers are given carte blanche to detain first, find evidence for suspicion later.
Indeed, the decision blatantly strips away rights from citizens who have displayed no evidence of wrongdoing while affording police officers more flexibility to ignore proper procedure and work beyond the bounds of the law.
Misinterpretations of the Law are Legal When Committed by Police
The case under consideration was Utah v. Streiff, No. 14-1373, whereupon police officer Douglas Fackrell stopped and detained Edward Strieff after leaving a home that was under surveillance following an anonymous tip of “narcotics activity,” according to sources such as the New York Times.
The state of Utah even conceded that Officer Fackrell did not have sufficient grounds to make the stop. It was not until Officer Fackrell had run Strieff’s ID and discovered an outstanding warrant for a traffic offense that he found actual evidence of a crime. He then arrested and searched Strieff, finding a small amount of methamphetamine.
Utah’s Supreme Court threw out the resulting drug conviction since the evidence had been collected under unacceptable circumstances — an illegal detainment. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision, stating that Officer Fackrell’s search and others like it are acceptable even though they violate the Fourth Amendment, as well as the Fifth Amendment right to due process of the law.
Penning the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas found that such searches do not infringe upon the Fourth Amendment protecting against illegal searches and seizures since “there is no evidence that Officer Fackrell’s illegal stop reflected flagrantly unlawful police misconduct.”
In other words, people like Officer Fackrell have no cause to learn how to do their job properly or legally anymore as long as they dig up evidence in the end.
Illegal Stop-and-Frisk Procedures Gain Strength Under SCOTUS Decision
Justice Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion looked less at the specific facts of the case and how the decision’s implications could permit discretionless police activity in the future.
“Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language,” she cautioned, “This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants — even if you are doing nothing wrong.”
The fact that the defendant was later found to have been in the act of committing a crime is irrelevant to the failure to follow procedure during the incident. Justice Sotomayor put it best herself, saying: “In his search for lawbreaking, the officer in this case himself broke the law.”
Issues of forced, illegal searches following a lack of evidence have become more problematic lately, including one case of a man and woman who were searched because an officer had “seen” them before when they worked in the narcotics division. No drugs were found.
If you have been arrested or illegally detained in this way, then fight for your rights against abuse of power and the police’s failure to follow procedure. Contact a Kansas and Missouri criminal defense and personal injury attorney who can fight for your case in both criminal and civil courts. Even with this decision, you still have rights.