Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Supreme Court Defends Illegal Stops -- Denies Fourth Amendment Rights


Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The purpose of the 4th Amendment is to protect people from being abused by a powerful government.  There are strict rules that government agents must follow to search you and seize evidence. This means that law enforcement agents need probable cause and a warrant in most cases, to search your person or belongings.

If there is no probable cause and you are searched illegally, any evidence collected from the search will be excluded from evidence at trial. This has come to be called the Exclusionary Rule.

Over the years, the courts have interpreted the 4th Amendment, along with other Amendments such as the 9th, to protect privacy in many situations.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. 

The Ninth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects all of the rights of the people that are not mentioned specifically elsewhere in the Constitution. It was a part of the original Bill of Rights drafted in 1787 and ratified in 1791. The rights protected are referred to as “unenumerated” rights, and include those inferred by other legal rights, as well as natural, fundamental, and background ones.

The 9th amendment is used to protect the citizenry from any expansion of governmental power because of the limited nature of the Bill of Rights. Because every right of the people of the United States could not possibly be mentioned in the Constitution, the Ninth Amendment was added to supplement those already mentioned. The amendment protects many rights implied in a universal civil code, and those that are linked to other rights already declared. It protects these personal liberties from state and federal infringement.

Supreme Court Today – Regarding Search and Seizure

Evidence obtained through illegal stops and searches can in some cases be used against the defendant in court, ruled the majority of the US Supreme Court in June, 2016.

The ruling came in the case of Utah vs. Strieff. In December 2006, narcotics detective Douglas Fackrell was observing a house after an anonymous tip suggested the house was being used for "narcotic activity." He decided to question the next person he saw leave the house, who happened to be Edward Strieff.

Officer Fackrell detained Mr. Strieff while he radioed in to check for outstanding warrants; after learning Strieff had a warrant against him for a minor traffic offense, Fackrell searched Strieff and found a small amount of methamphetamine.

The drug conviction was thrown out by the Utah Supreme Court, on the grounds that it resulted from an unconstitutional stop: Fackrell had no reason to suspect Strieff of illegal activity, so the search would only be legal if Strieff had admitted to a crime or consented to a search after the initial stop, the Utah court ruled.

But the nation's highest court reinstated the conviction on Monday, as the five-justice majority determined that "while Officer Fackrell's decision to initiate the stop was mistaken, his conduct thereafter was lawful.”

Writing for the conservative majority, which included the typically liberal Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Justice Clarence Thomas said the discovery of Strieff's warrant made the subsequent search legal.
The Supreme Court's three other liberal justices dissented in two separate opinions, written by Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

(Gretel Kauffman. “Did the Supreme Court just expand police searches?”  
The Christian Science Monitor. June 21, 2016.)

In a scathing dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined in part by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, concluded by writing:

By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral (suggesting a jail or prison) state, just waiting to be cataloged.

We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.”

While Mr. Strieff is white, Justice Sotomayor said, “it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny.” The central, disturbing message of Monday’s ruling, she added, is that whether you are white or black, “your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights,” and in that way, “unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives.”

There are more than 7.8 million outstanding arrest warrants in the United States, according to state and federal databases, Sotomayor noted. The majority of these warrants are for minor offenses, such as unpaid traffic tickets.

Justice Elena Kagan also wrote a dissent of her own, and was also joined by Justice Ginsburg. She wrote that the majority’s decision:

[C]reates unfortunate incentives for the police— indeed, practically invites them to do what Fackrell did here. Consider an officer who, like Fackrell, wishes to stop someone for investigative reasons, but does not have what a court would view as reasonable suspicion. If the officer believes that any evidence he discovers will be inadmissible, he is likely to think the unlawful stop not worth making—precisely the deterrence the exclusionary rule is meant to achieve. But when he is told of today’s decision? Now the officer knows that the stop may well yield admissible evidence: So long as the target is one of the many millions of people in this country with an outstanding arrest warrant, anything the officer finds in a search is fair game for use in a criminal prosecution. The officer’s incentive to violate the Constitution thus increases: From here on, he sees potential advantage in stopping individuals without reasonable suspicion—exactly the temptation the exclusionary rule is supposed to remove. Because the majority thus places Fourth Amendment protections at risk, I respectfully dissent.”

(Joshua Waimberg. “The Supreme Court’s Utah v. Strieff decision and the FourthAmendment.” Constitution Daily. June 22, 2016.)

"You're basically encouraging police to stop whomever they want for the purpose of: 'I want to see if you have any open warrants. And once I find that you have an open warrant for not paying a parking ticket, now I can look into your pockets,'”said University of Maryland law professor Doug Colbert to The Baltimore Sun.

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