Supreme Court Weakens Protection Against Illegal Searches

All hail the mighty police. Thanks to the Supreme Court today, your protection against a warrantless search following an illegal stop by police just diminished.

In a 5-3 ruling, the justices relaxed the so-called exclusionary rule and upheld the use of drug evidence found on a Utah man who was stopped illegally by a police officer in Salt Lake City.

The court, in an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, said that because the man had an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation, the illegal stop could be ignored.

The opinion is here. The three female justices dissented. Justice Sotomoyor's words are powerful: [More...]

“The court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your 4th Amendment rights,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in dissent.

“Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: 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,” she wrote. “If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant.”

Allowing police to stop people to "fish for evidence" is a serious mistake that will give officers "reason to target pedestrians in an arbitrary manner,” Sotomayor wrote.

How does the majority justify this exception? On the "attenuation" doctrine. From the court opinion:

Evidence is admissible when the connection between unconstitutional police conduct and the evidence is remote or has been interrupted by some intervening circumstance, so that “the interest protected by the constitutional guarantee that has been violated would not be served by suppression of the evidence obtained.”

The issue:

[W]hether the discovery of a valid arrest warrant was a sufficient intervening event to break the causal chain between the unlawful stop and the discovery of drug-related evidence on Strieff ’s person.

The majority, per Thomas, wrote:

The exclusionary rule exists to deter police misconduct. .... when it is purposeful or flagrant. Officer Fackrell was at most negligent.

Back in 1995, House Leader Newt Gingrich tried to ram a good faith exception to warrantless searches through Congress as part of his Contract On America. Anthony Lewis of the New York Times wrote:

Without the exclusionary rule, the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches would be a dead letter -- because the rule is the only effective way of enforcing it. The concern that evidence may be excluded is what keeps officers on the straight and narrow when they search.

Gingrich is on Trump's list of VP candidates. He has always been a menace to constitutional rights.

The men who control the House of Representatives today are not conservatives in the traditional sense. They are determined to use the power they won last fall at once, pell-mell.

They believe that they are going to affect only people in situations where they could never be: criminal defendants without adequate counsel, for example. But tampering with basic constitutional values has a way of coming back to touch the tamperers.

Supreme Court justices have too much impact to leave their selection to Republicans. The Supreme Court alone is enough of a reason to vote against Trump.

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  • Display: Sort:
    I am not one to claim easily that the sky (5.00 / 4) (#1)
    by Peter G on Mon Jun 20, 2016 at 07:28:19 PM EST
    is falling, but this is one of the worst Supreme Court decisions on police power/search and seizure in modern times. And I cannot think of a dissent in such a case as powerful and, yes, radical in its truth-telling as Sotomayor's, since Justice Brandeis's now-revered 1928 dissent in Olmstead.

    Surprised that (none / 0) (#2)
    by KeysDan on Tue Jun 21, 2016 at 10:34:18 AM EST
    Justice Breyer joined the majority. Although he is often pragmatic in his approach to Constitutional issues and sometimes adheres too closely to the ideas of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that he midwifed back in the day. Still, a great justice, in my view, but seriously off the mark on this one.