If you haven’t heard, the U.S. Supreme Court came out with a new decision regarding the protections under the 4th Amendment on Monday, June 20, 2016. The case, called Utah v. Strieff, deals with whether evidence can be used against you when the evidence was obtained during an unconstitutional investigatory stop.
What happened was a narcotics officer received an anonymous tip about drug activity at a particular house. That narcotics officer watched the house on and off for about a week and saw people enter the house and leave only a few minutes later, giving suspicion of drug activity. Edward Strieff left the house and walked to a nearby convenient store where the officer detained Strieff in the parking lot and asked what Strieff was doing at the house. As part of the stop, the officer requested Strieff’s identification. The officer then discovered that Strieff had an arrest warrant for a simple traffic violation. When the officer arrested Strieff pursuant to the warrant and searched Strieff pursuant to the arrest, finding a bag of methamphetamine and other drug paraphernalia.
The U.S. Supreme Court held that while the stop was unconstitutional, there were other factors to consider. Those factors included the presence of intervening circumstances and the purpose and flagrancy of the officer’s conduct. To the Court, the presence of a valid arrest warrant, predating the investigation and entirely unconnected with the stop was strong support to use the evidence against Strieff. Furthermore, because the narcotics officer was at most only negligent, the Court believed that his errors in judgement hardly rose to a purposeful or flagrant violation of Strieff’s 4th Amendment rights.
The Court finally decided that the evidence could be used against Strieff regardless of the unconstitutionality of the stop. The factors explained above outweighed the fact that the Strieff’s 4th Amendment rights had been violated.
The full effect of this decision is still unknown, but you still need to be aware of what this could mean with regard to your everyday interaction with the police. What this could potentially mean is that a police officer could unconstitutionally stop you (violating your 4th Amendment rights), ask for your identification, determine if you have an arrest warrant, arrest you if you do, search you, and anything found can be used against you on unrelated charges.
Your constitutional rights are important, but they are not as clear cut as you may think. Please contact our firm at (940) 891-4800 if you have questions or if you believe that those rights may have been violated.