On Monday, June 21, the Supreme Court ruled that even if the police illegally stopped an individual any evidence seized from the person would be admissible as long as the police seized it after learning that the defendant had an outstanding arrest warrant. Utah v. Strieff, No. 14-1373.
Police are allowed to temporarily detain citizens if they have reasonable suspicion to believe that the person is involved in criminal activity. When the police are wrong in their analysis and they do not have reasonable suspicion, most courts have held that any evidence discovered during the illegal stop is to be suppressed. The Court changed this understanding Monday and held that the searches were legal as long as they occurred after police learned that the individual stopped had an outstanding arrest warrant.
In what has become a widely quoted dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, "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. 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."
Experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorneys will continue to challenge these illegal stops to determine whether the police even acted in good faith in temporarily detaining a citizen. Because only five justices were in the majority, we are hopeful that a change in personnel on the Supreme Court will cause this case to be reversed.