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Supreme Court Ruling Raises Serious Questions on Unlawful Police Stops

 Posted on August 14, 2016 in Uncategorized

United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a scathing dissent this week in a case involving unlawful police stops and how courts may use evidence found in certain situations. Hers was a minority opinion as the high court ruled that evidence obtained during an otherwise illegal stop may be used if the individual already had an outstanding warrant, despite there being no way for the officer on the scene to know that such was the case.

Utah v. Strieff

The case in question stemmed from a police stop of a man outside a house in South Salt Lake City, Utah. According to court records, police officials had received an anonymous tip about drug activity taking place at the residence. The man was stopped after leaving the house, despite the lack of reasonable suspicion that he was engaging in criminal actions. Police asked the man for identification, which he provided. Upon checking his ID, police found an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation. The man was subsequently arrested, and a search found methamphetamines and drug paraphernalia.

During his prosecution, the man claimed that the evidence should be inadmissible since it was derived from an illegal stop. The trial court and appellate court both disagreed, but the Utah Supreme Court ordered the evidence to be suppressed. Thus, the case made its way to the United States Supreme Court.

“Intervening Circumstance”

In its ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court barely commented on the legality of the original stop. Instead, in a 5-3 decision, the Court determined that the existence of an outstanding warrant was an intervening circumstance between the stop and the eventual search incident to arrest. In addition, the Court found that, even if the stop was technically unlawful, it was not a flagrant violation of the man’s rights, in light of the reasonable investigation of reported drug activity at the house.

Major Concerns

As one of the three dissenting justices, Justice Sotomayor penned a harsh criticism of the Court’s decision. She wrote that the ruling opens the door to serious problems, since “an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your fourth amendment rights.” Sotomayor pointed out that the Court, in her opinion, has given police the free reign to stop whoever they want and for whatever reason, as long as there is a justification that can be found after the fact. “Unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives,” she concluded.

Seek Legal Help

If you have been stopped by police and arrested for an outstanding warrant, you need assistance. Contact an experienced Joliet criminal defense attorney and ensure your rights are fully protected. Call 815-740-4025 to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation at the Law Offices of Jack L. Zaremba, P.C. today.

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