Supreme Court Says Illegal Police Stops Are OK as Long as They Find an Outstanding Warrant Afterward
The next step, of course, is removing the post-arrest warrant requirement. Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones:
A couple of days ago the Supreme Court released its opinion in Utah v. Strieff. The facts of the case are pretty simple. Working from an anonymous tip about drug dealing, a police detective staked out a house and then randomly detained a man named Edward Strieff as he was leaving. He had no probable cause to do this, but he did it anyway. Then he demanded Strieff’s ID, ran a background check, and discovered that Strieffhad an outstanding warrant for a traffic violation. Bingo. That was enough to arrest him and conduct a search, which turned up some meth.
There’s no argument about whether the stop was valid. It wasn’t. It was plainly unlawful, and the officer who made the stop certainly knew that. However, the court ruled that the illegality of the stop was “attenuated” by the outstanding warrant. Here is Clarence Thomas’s astonishingly cavalier decision:
Officer Fackrell was at most negligent…. two good-faith mistakes…. lacked a sufficient basis to conclude that Strieff was a short-term visitor…. should have asked Strieff whether he would speak with him, instead of demanding that Strieff do so…. his conduct thereafter was lawful…. the warrant check was a “negligibly burdensome precautio[n]”…. search of Strieff was a lawful search incident to arrest…. no indication that this unlawful stop was part of any systemic or recurrent police misconduct.
….Strieff argues that, because of the prevalence of outstanding arrest warrants in many jurisdictions, police will engage in dragnet searches if the exclusionary rule is not applied. We think that this outcome is unlikely. Such wanton conduct would expose police to civil liability.
Nickel version: There’s no reason to think that Officer Fackrell knew he was acting unlawfully. And no reason to think that this kind of “innocent mistake” happens frequently. After all, this would expose police department to civil liability, and history suggests that’s plenty to deter police from illegal conduct. And anyway, everything following the illegal conduct was just standard procedure. No need to be concerned about it.
This willful exercise in ivory tower fantasy is breathtaking. Does anyone seriously believe that Officer Fackrell just made an innocent mistake? That goes far beyond garden variety naivete. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who apparently knows a little more about the real world than Thomas, wrote a blistering dissent: . . .