This is a win for law enforcement officials who have been compounded in technicalities. Although, it is also a cause for concern and opens the door for abuses of authority and power.
JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the opinion of the Court,
To enforce the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” this Court has at times required courts to exclude evidence obtained by unconstitutional police conduct.
But the Court has also held that, even when there is a Fourth Amendment violation, this exclusionary rule does not apply when the costs of exclusion outweigh its deterrent benefits. In some cases, for example, the link between the unconstitutional conduct and the discovery of the evidence is too attenuated to justify suppression.
The question in this case is whether this attenuation doctrine applies when an officer makes an unconstitutional investigatory stop; learns during that stop that the suspect is subject to a valid arrest warrant; and proceeds to arrest the suspect and seize incriminating evidence during a search incident to that arrest.
We hold that the evidence the officer seized as part of the search incident to arrest is admissible because the officer’s discovery of the arrest warrant attenuated the connection between the unlawful stop and the evidence seized incident to arrest.
Supreme Court weakens the law against unreasonable searches. The “exclusionary rule”: when police obtain evidence of a crime through illegal means, the evidence is usually inadmissible in court.
This rule, an outgrowth of the Fourth Amendment bar on “unreasonable searches and seizures”, deters police from violating citizens’ constitutional rights when undertaking criminal investigations. But the rule just became something closer to a suggestion: on June 20th the Supreme Court divided along gender lines in a 5-3 decision that introduces a loophole in rules for obtaining evidence that were developed more than 50 years ago.
The exclusionary rule has long been contested. Introduced in 1914 for federal prosecutions, it was not applied to all courts until the Supreme Court ruled on Mapp v Ohio 1961. Justice Tom Clark wrote in that case that police would have no incentive to stick to the Fourth Amendment when searching suspects if all the evidence they collect is admissible no matter how they come by it.
Benjamin Cardozo, a Supreme Court justice in the 1930s, opposed it, asking why “the criminal is to go free because the constable has blundered”? Now begins the wait to see whether police forces change their behavior to take advantage of the new powers the Court has just handed them.
Read More: The Economist
Featured Image – Supreme Court at dusk – Wikimedia Commons.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
Syllabus UTAH v. STRIEFF
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF UTAH
No. 14–1373. Argued February 22, 2016—Decided June 20, 2016 Narcotics detective Douglas Fackrell conducted surveillance on a South Salt Lake City residence based on an anonymous tip about drug activity. The number of people he observed making brief visits to the house over the course of a week made him suspicious that the occupants were dealing drugs. After observing respondent Edward Strieff leave the residence, Officer Fackrell detained Strieff at a nearby parking lot, identifying himself and asking Strieff what he was doing at the house. He then requested Strieff’s identification and relayed the information to a police dispatcher, who informed him that Strieff had an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation. Officer
Officer Fackrell arrested Strieff, searched him, and found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. Strieff moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that it was derived from an unlawful investigatory stop. The trial court denied the motion, and the Utah Court of Appeals affirmed. The Utah Supreme Court reversed, however, and ordered the evidence suppressed.
Held: The evidence Officer Fackrell seized incident to Strieff’s arrest is admissible based on an application of the attenuation factors from Brown v. Illinois, 422 U. S. 590. In this case, there was no flagrant police misconduct. Therefore, Officer Fackrell’s discovery of a valid, pre-existing, and untainted arrest warrant attenuated the connection between the unconstitutional investigatory stop and the evidence seized incident to a lawful arrest. Pp. 4–10. (a) As the primary judicial remedy for deterring Fourth Amendment violations, the exclusionary rule encompasses both the “primary
(a) As the primary judicial remedy for deterring Fourth Amendmentviolations, the exclusionary rule encompasses both the “primary evidence obtained as a direct result of an illegal search or seizure” and, relevant here, “evidence later discovered and found to be derivative of an illegality.” Segura v. United States, 468 U. S. 796, 804. But to ensure that those deterrence benefits are not outweighed byt he rule’s substantial social costs, there are several exceptions to the rule. One exception is the attenuation doctrine, which provides for
admissibility when the connection between unconstitutional police conduct and the evidence is sufficiently remote or has been interrupted by some intervening circumstance. See Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U. S. 586, 593. Pp. 4–5.
(b) As a threshold matter, the attenuation doctrine is not limited to the defendant’s independent acts. The doctrine therefore applies here, where the intervening circumstance is the discovery of a valid, pre-existing, and untainted arrest warrant. Assuming, without deciding, that Officer Fackrell lacked reasonable suspicion to stop. Strieff initially, the discovery of that arrest warrant attenuated the connection between the unlawful stop and the evidence seized from Strieff incident to his arrest. Pp. 5–10.
(1) Three factors articulated in Brown v. Illinois, 422 U. S. 590, lead to this conclusion. The first, “temporal proximity” between the initially unlawful stop and the search, id., at 603, favors suppressing the evidence. Officer Fackrell discovered drug contraband on Strieff
only minutes after the illegal stop. In contrast, the second factor, “the presence of intervening circumstances, id., at 603–604, strongly favors the State. The existence of a valid warrant, predating the investigation and entirely unconnected with the stop, favors finding sufficient attenuation between the unlawful conduct and the discovery of evidence. That warrant authorized Officer Fackrell to arrest Strieff, and once the arrest was authorized, his search of Strieff incident to that arrest was undisputedly lawful. The third factor, “the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct,” id., at 604, also strongly favors the State. Officer Fackrell was at most negligent, but his errors in judgment hardly rise to a purposeful or flagrant violation of Strieff’s Fourth Amendment rights. After the unlawful stop, his conduct was lawful, and there is no indication that the stop was part of any systemic or recurrent police misconduct. Pp. 6–9. (2)
(2) Strieff’s counterarguments are unpersuasive. First, neither Officer Fackrell’s purpose nor the flagrancy of the violation rises to a level of misconduct warranting suppression. Officer Fackrell’s purpose was not to conduct a suspicionless fishing expedition but was to gather information about activity inside a house whose occupants were legitimately suspected of dealing drugs. Strieff conflates the standard for an illegal stop with the standard for flagrancy, which requires more than the mere absence of proper cause. Second, it is unlikely that the prevalence of outstanding warrants will lead to dragnet searches by police. Such misconduct would expose police to civil liability and, in any event, is already accounted for by Brown’s
“purpose and flagrancy” factor. Pp. 9–10.
2015 UT 2, 357 P. 3d 532, reversed.
THOMAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, BREYER, and ALITO, JJ., joined. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GINSBURG, J., joined as to Parts I, II, and III. KAGAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GINSBURG, J., joined.
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