The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated. . .
– United States Constitution, Amend. IV
The United States Supreme Court recently ruled in a 5-3 decision that it’s perfectly fine if a police officer stops you unlawfully, as long as sometime afterwards he finds out that there was an arrest warrant filed against you. In other words, “the ends justify the means,” . . . a concept that would have been completely abhorrent to the writers of our Constitution.
In Utah v. Streiff, a police officer received a tip that possible narcotics activity was talking place at a residence. When Edward Strieff left the home and was walking to a nearby convenience store he was stopped and detained by a police officer. The police officer asked for his identification. The stop was clearly unlawful as the police officer did not observe engage Strieff engage in any suspected criminal conduct. It was one of the “unreasonable” searches and seizures prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. However, after the illegal seizure, it was discovered Streiff had an arrest warrant out for him for a traffic violation. When the officer searched Strieff he discovered methamphetamine.
In giving his blessing to the illegal conduct of the police officer, Justice Clarence Thomas acknowledged that the police officer lacked reasonable suspicion for the stop, and that the police officer made a mistake. Justice Thomas called this constitutional violation a simple instance of “negligence” that should be overlooked. Unlawful conduct by the police used to mean that the evidence which flowed from the illegal arrest was “fruit of the poisonous” tree and was considered tainted. Such tainted evidence could not be admitted into the sanctity of a court of law. It’s called the Exclusionary Rule, and was meant to serve as a deterrent to illegal police activity.
Justice Thomas, and the majority of the Court, is more than willing to forgive a blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, if in the end a citizen has an outstanding warrant. Who is worse? The agent of the State that violated the Supreme Law of the Land or a citizen who breaks a traffic statute?
Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor dissented. Justice Sotomayor recognized what this decision really means to American citizens. 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, 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.” She is correct.
It is interesting that the three ladies on the Court seem to stand alone in defending the vision of our Founding Fathers, while the men on the Court have abandoned the once sacred principles of freedom in order to further perpetuate the ever growing police state.
Next time you decide to walk to the convenience store, be sure you have your papers in order.