The Supreme Court has ruled that evidence found by police officers after illegal stops may be used in court if the officers conducted their search after learning the defendants had outstanding arrest warrants. This decision came after a 5 to 3 vote, where the majority side determined that 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, arose from police surveillance that took place outside a Salt Lake City home suspected of “narcotics activity”. The police stopped a man after he left the house and ran a background check on him. The police discovered the man had a warrant for a minor traffic violation. From there, the police searched him and found drugs on his person .
The decision was a significant win for police. It goes towards creating an exception to the exclusionary rule for searches of people with outstanding warrants. In his opinion, Justice Thomas wrote that the police officer’s initial instinct was unlawful, but there was no reason to believe that it was “part of any systematic or recurrent police misconduct.” In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sotamayor replied that “the Fourth Amendment does not tolerate an officer’s unreasonable searches and seizures just because he did not know any better” .
Utah Solicitor General Tyler Green congratulated the team that worked on the case, and said “[n]ow courts and prosecutors throughout the country know to follow what has long been the majority rule: evidence seized in a search incident to an arrest on a valid warrant can be introduced during a defendant’s trial as long as the initial stop did not flagrantly violate the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights” .
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