On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that evidence discovered during an illegal police stop may still be used in court—with the caveat that the officers conducted their search after learning that the suspect had an outstanding arrest warrant. In a 5-3 ruling, the justices found that such searches do not violate the Fourth Amendment.
The case, Utah v. Strieff, concerned Edward Strieff, who in December 2006 was stopped by an officer staking out a suspected drug-dealing location in South Salt Lake. Grounds for the stop were later ruled inadequate because it was not based on reasonable suspicion. During the stop, the officer ran a check and discovered Strieff had an outstanding warrant for a minor traffic violation and conducted a search—finding a baggie full of methamphetamines and a pipe that was deemed paraphernalia. A district court later ruled that although the cop didn’t have the right to stop Strieff, the evidence was admissible. The highest court in the land has now agreed.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a scathing dissent regarding the decision, stating that the case “tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent…that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights.”
Sotomayor also stressed that some are more likely to be impacted by the ruling than others.
“It is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny,” she wrote.
Sotomayor’s dissent cited the Justice Department report on the roots of Ferguson riots and books including Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and James Baldwin’s 1963 classic The Fire Next Time.
Civil rights activists were also aghast at the decision.
“We were disappointed with today’s ruling,” John Mejia, legal director of the Utah American Civil Liberties Union, told local KUTV. “Police actually need a reason to stop you. The baseline is always going to be you have a right to be free from government interference without consent unless the government can articulate a reason for why they’re doing that.”
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