In a recent 5-to-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that evidence found by police officers following an illegal stop may be used in court if the officers conducted their searches after learning that the individual stopped had outstanding arrest warrants.
This decision arose from Utah v. Strieff, No. 14-1373, a case where police were surveilling a house based on an anonymous tip of narcotics activity. An officer stopped Edward Strieff after he left the house, which was later admitted to be on insufficient grounds, making the stop unlawful. The officer ran a background check on Strieff following the stop and discovered a warrant for a minor traffic violation. He arrested Strieff, searched him and found a baggie of methamphetamines and drug paraphernalia.
The question before the Supreme Court was whether the drugs may be suppressed given the unlawful stop, or whether the drugs could be used as evidence given the arrest warrants. The Court upheld Strieff’s conviction and held that the officer’s search of Strieff did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the warrant was valid and unconnected to the conduct that prompted the stop.
Three Supreme Court justices strongly disagreed with this decision, voicing concern over the fact that courts will now excuse an officer’s illegal stop and admit anything into evidence that was found following the search of an individual arrested for an outstanding warrant.
In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor stated “We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.
A warrant can be issued for something as minor as forgetting to pay a fee for a traffic violation. Essentially, this Supreme Court decision gives police the power to unlawfully initiate a traffic stop, and later remedy the “bad stop” if a person had an outstanding warrant no matter how minor the violation that resulted in a warrant being issued.
Given the recent changes in the law, it is always important to consult an experienced attorney to assist you with determining if there are any legal challenges to your case. Contact one of our Racine, WI attorneys today to assist you with any pending case you may have.