Monday, June 20, 2016

U.S. Supreme Court Limits 4th Amendment's Ban on 'Unreasonable Searches'


At WSJ, "U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Limits Constitutional Protections Against Searches":
WASHINGTON—A sharply divided Supreme Court on Monday limited constitutional protections against searches, ruling that evidence gathered after police illegally detain someone could be used in court absent “flagrant” misconduct by law enforcement.

Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said a police officer’s possible “negligence” in stopping a pedestrian without reasonable suspicion shouldn’t prevent prosecutors from charging him with a drug offense.

The ruling came in a South Salt Lake City, Utah, case in which a man named Edward Strieff walked out of a house an officer had been watching after getting an anonymous tip about “narcotics activity” happening there.

The officer, Douglas Fackrell, stopped Mr. Strieff, asked what he was doing at the house and ran his identification through a police database. When that produced a traffic warrant, Officer Fackrell arrested Mr. Strieff and searched him, discovering the drugs.

Utah conceded that the police stop was illegal but argued that the discovery of the warrant provided the officer a legitimate reason to arrest Mr. Strieff and search him.

“The warrant was valid, it predated Officer Fackrell’s investigation, and it was entirely unconnected with the stop,” Justice Thomas wrote in the 5-3 ruling. “And once Officer Fackrell discovered the warrant, he had an obligation to arrest Strieff.” That, in turn, authorized the officer to search Mr. Strieff under Supreme Court precedents that allow police to search arrestees to ensure they aren’t carrying concealed weapons.

Justice Thomas was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan filed separate dissents, each joined in part or in whole by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop” and allow prosecution for any evidence he finds...
Also at USA Today, "Supreme Court allows searches based on outstanding arrest warrants":
The decision was controversial because in some cities thousands of people have arrest warrants pending against them, mostly for traffic violations as insignificant as unpaid parking tickets.

There were 16,000 outstanding arrest warrants in Ferguson, Mo., as of 2015 — a figure that amounts to roughly 75% of the city’s population — the Justice Department found during its investigation into the 2014 police shooting of an unarmed, 18-year-old African-American man. Cincinnati recently had more than 100,000 warrants pending for failure to appear in court. New York City has 1.2 million outstanding warrants.

The high court case involved a Utah narcotics detective's detention of a man leaving a house that was under observation for possible drug dealing. Based on the discovery of an outstanding arrest warrant for a minor traffic infraction, the man was searched and found to have illegal drugs...