Supreme Court Continues Carving Away at the Constitution

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on June 21st, 2016

I’ve written repeatedly over past years on the continuing destruction of our constitutional rights — particularly in DUI cases.  See "The DUI Exception to the Constitution".

Yesterday, in the case of Utah vs. Strieff, the United States Supreme Court dealt yet another blow to what few rights still remain, even in non-DUI cases.  From the New York Times:


Supreme Court Says Police May Use Evidence Found After Illegal Stops

Washington, DC.  June 20 – The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that evidence found by police officers after illegal stops may be used in court if the officers conducted their searches after learning that the defendants had outstanding arrest warrants.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority in the 5-to-3 decision, said such searches do not violate the Fourth Amendment when the warrant is valid and unconnected to the conduct that prompted the stop…

The case, Utah v. Strieff, No. 14-1373, arose from police surveillance of a house in South Salt Lake based on an anonymous tip of “narcotics activity” there. A police officer, Douglas Fackrell, stopped Edward Strieff after he had left the house based on what the state later conceded were insufficient grounds, making the stop unlawful.

Officer Fackrell then ran a check and discovered a warrant for a minor traffic violation. He arrested Mr. Strieff, searched him and found a baggie containing methamphetamines and drug paraphernalia. The question for the justices was whether the drugs must be suppressed given the unlawful stop or whether they could be used as evidence given the arrest warrant.

“Officer Fackrell was at most negligent,” Justice Thomas wrote, adding that “there is no evidence that Officer Fackrell’s illegal stop reflected flagrantly unlawful police misconduct.”…

In a dissent…Justice Sotomayor said the court had vastly expanded police power.

“The court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights,” she wrote. “Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: 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.

“If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay,” she continued, “courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant.”…


So an admittedly illegal stop by police — a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment — is ok if it was not "flagrantly unlawful"?  When did the Constitution only apply to "flagrant" violations?  What constitutes "flagrant"?

What little remains of our Constitution lays in tatters on the steps of the Supreme Court — the third branch of the government intended by the Founders to protect those rights.
 

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