Utah v. Strieff, The Exclusionary Rule and What it Means For Your Rights
In June of 2016, the United States Supreme Court issued their opinion about a 2006 Salt Lake Utah case where a man was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia and methamphetamine. This ultimately changed the scope of what was known as the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule. So what does this have to do with your rights? First let’s discuss exactly what the Exclusionary Rule is along with the rational behind it.
The Exclusionary Rule is a legal principle which holds that evidence that was collected in violation of an individual’s rights can be held inadmissible in court. Also known as the Fruit of the Poisoness Tree Doctrine, any evidence (either directly or indirectly) that comes from an illegal search or seizure should be thrown out from court as it is tainted like fruit from a poisoned tree . The rational behind this is to give discouragement to law enforcement agencies from doing illegal activities. In a traffic related matter, for instance, the only thing that stops a police officer from stopping every car on the road is the knowledge that if they stop a car without Reasonable Suspicion anything they find will be inadmissible. While walking down the street, officers must have reasonable suspicion of a crime before they detain you. This prevents officers from literally stopping anyone they feel like and patting them down for drugs and weapons.
The Strieff case arose from a 2006 incident following an anonymous tip that drugs were being sold out of a house. The house was placed under surveillance before an officer detained Edward Strieff. The officer discovered that Strieff had an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation and was searched incident to his arrest under the warrant. Drugs were discovered and he was ultimately charged with drug offenses.
The Defense argued that the evidence discovered on him should be suppressed because the officer had no reasonable suspicion to stop him. The prosecutor argued that because the arrest was based off the legal warrant, not the stop, the warrant was the proximate cause of the discovery and the evidence should not be thrown out. While the Utah Supreme Court sided with the defense, the United State’s Supreme Court sided with the state and upheld the defendant’s conviction.
SO WHY DOES THIS MATTER TO ME?
Even if you are not one of the millions of people who may have an outstanding warrant, the officer now has an incentive to stop you on the street for absolutely no reason. The officer knows that if he stops you and then gets lucky and finds out you have a warrant, anything he finds in the search is admissible in court. This negates the entire purpose of the Exclusionary Rule. Regardless of the outcome, by the time you are stopped, your rights are already violated. For those who are not stopped often this may not seem like a big deal, however this goes against one of the fundamental principles of the constitution.
Justice Kagan’s Dissent:
“[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.”
Remember if you are stopped by the police you have a right to remain silent and you should exercise that right! If you are stopped for a suspected crime you shouldn’t take any field sobriety tests, blow in Road Side Portable Breath Tests or make any admissions. As a general rule of thumb you should be polite but refuse to answer any questions. If you are arrested for a crime, the best thing you can do is call us at 877-I-CAN-WIN!