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June 21, 2016


On Monday the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that courts do not have to throw out evidence of crime even if the arresting officer used unlawful tactics to obtain it. According to Mark Sherman of the Associated Press, the ruling comes after a case in which a police detective illegally stopped someone in Salt Lake City, Utah. Upon the stop a name check revealed that there was an outstanding warrant (Sherman 1).  The case has flown under the radar for the most part but after the 5-3 decision on Monday, the case drew heated dissents from justices that "warned that outcome would encourage police to violate people's rights" (Sherman 2). 

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented in a 12 page opinion that blasted the opposition saying this is a huge blow to constitutional rights and that "this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time" (Sotomayer 1). Justice Sotomayer went on to say in an article with the Washington Post that this decision says your body is subject invasion while the courts excuse the violation of your rights. 

Originally, the Utah Court said the evidence must be suppressed because the officer had no reason to believe the defendant, Strieff, had done anything wrong. The Utah Court believed the only way the search could be legal was if the defendant admitted to a crime or contented to a search. 

Justice Clarence Thomas and the majority disagreed, however. Justice Thomas wrote "The discovery of the arrest warrant attenuated the connection between the unlawful stop and the evidence seized from the Strieff incident to arrest" (Thomas 1). Justice Thomas went on to say in article written by Robert Barnes with the Washington Post, "Fackrell’s (the officer)  initial instinct was unlawful, Thomas wrote, but there was no reason to believe that it was “part of any systemic or recurrent police misconduct. To the contrary, all the evidence suggests that the stop was an isolated instance of negligence that occurred in connection with a bona fide investigation of a suspected drug house” (Barnes 1). Essentially saying that the stop was warranted because it was in relation to an investigation, an argument that Sotomayer finds bogus. 

Sotomayer replied saying "the Fourth Amendment does not tolerate an officer's unreasonable search and seizures just because he did not know any better"(Barnes 2). This decision is particularly dangerous in a society in which outstanding warrants are becoming increasingly common. A 2015 Justice Department report revealed bad police practices in Ferguson, MO. The report concluded that 16,000 of Ferguson's 21,000 residents had outstanding warrants. 

This decision just increased police power while taking away basic constitutional rights of the American people. Police now may pull people over in anticipation of illegal activity and furthermore, evidence obtained illegally will not have to be suppressed as long as it does produce illegal, criminal activity. 

The Fourth Amendment people, the fourth amendment.

Tyler B. Webb
Senior Law Clerk, Levitt Law Firm

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