WASHINGTON, DC — In a 5-3 ruling in Utah v. Strieff, the U.S. Supreme Court has opened the door for police to stop, arrest and search citizens without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
In a blistering dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor blasted the court for holding “that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.” Sotomayor further warned, “[t]his 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… 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.”
“With this ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively stripped Americans of their Fourth Amendment rights and provided police with even greater incentives to erode our freedoms, undermine our sovereignty, abuse our trust, invade our privacy and generally operate above the law,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “By giving police a green light to illegally stop any American for any reason, arrest them for any minor outstanding violation, and embark on a fishing expedition of one’s person and property, the Supreme Court has rendered us completely vulnerable to the whims of any cop on the beat.”
Utah v. Strieff arose in 2006 when police detective Douglass Fackrell, who had been monitoring an apartment building for possible drug activity, stopped Edward Strieff as he exited the building. Fackrell proceeded to question Strieff and ran his identification through the police database, whereupon he learned that Strieff had an outstanding arrest warrant for a minor traffic violation. Using the traffic warrant as a pretext to arrest and search Strieff, the police officer found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia in his possession. At trial, Strieff challenged the legitimacy of the stop and asked that the drug evidence be suppressed. The trial court denied his request and convicted Strieff. The Utah Supreme Court subsequently overturned the lower court decision on the grounds that the evidence was tainted by an illegal stop and should have been suppressed.
In voicing her opposition to the Supreme Court majority’s ruling in Utah v. Strieff, which found that no “flagrant” police misconduct had occurred, Justice Sotomayor concluded: “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 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.”