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Fourth Amendment Continues To Be Attacked

A New York Times article entitled Supreme Court Says Police May Use Evidence Found after Illegal Stops reports that citizens may not always be able to rely on evidence found during an illegal stop by law enforcement to be excluded at trial. In a 5-3 decision, the article reports, the Supreme Court has ruled that evidence collected during an unlawful investigatory stop does not have to be excluded if, during the unlawful stop, the arresting officer discovers a valid arrest warrant for the subject. The article reports that a Utah detective who was surveying a home for possible “narcotics activity” stopped a man who had left the home and ran a check on his identification, discovering a warrant that had been issued for the suspect. During a search incident to the arrest, a bag of methamphetamine and paraphernalia were found and the suspect was subsequently met with a possession charge. The issue to be decided by the Court was whether the drugs must be suppressed given the unlawful stop or admitted as evidence.

According to the article, Justice Sotomayor said in her dissent that the Court “had vastly expanded police power” and that the effects of this decision will reach far and wide, potentially subjecting people who have warrants attached to their name for minor offenses to unlawful searches.  Justice Sotomayor noted that 180,000 citizens in Utah have misdemeanor warrants and could potentially have their Fourth Amendment rights violated with no consequence.

An effect of this ruling is an exception to the exclusionary rule, which has been a key deterrent against Fourth Amendment violations for years. A hall pass will essentially be granted for law enforcement officers to be excused from responsibility for illegal stops. Another possible repercussion of this ruling is that because so many of the citizens stopped randomly will likely be people of color, the rates at which people are arrested may be disproportionate, which will undoubtedly upset efforts being made in mending race relations and trusting law enforcement. While warrants must be addressed and officers may have no choice but to make an arrest when one is discovered, citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights must not be abridged.

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