This week, in a 5-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that evidence obtained in unlawful stops can be admitted in court if the person being searched has a warrant out for their arrest. This contrasted the lower court’s decision, which stated that the 4th amendment prevents illegally-obtained evidence from being used at trial.
The case dealt with Edward Strieff, who was unlawfully stopped by police. During the stop, police discovered that Strieff was carrying drugs and drug paraphernalia.
Under normal circumstances, this evidence wouldn’t be allowed in court because Strieff was stopped illegally. In this case, Strieff had a warrant out for his arrest. The Supreme Court’s new ruling states that, because of the warrant for Strieff’s arrest, the evidence found in the unlawful stop was admissible.
In the dissenting opinion, Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg warned of the dangers of expanding this police power, writing that the decision “forgives an officer who, with no knowledge of the warrant at all, unlawfully stops that person on a whim or hunch.”
Sotomayor adds that allowances like these incentivize police to arbitrarily target pedestrians, and that such policies disproportionately affect people of color. The decision, Sotomayor states,
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.
This decision could encourage tactics like New York’s controversial stop-and-frisk policies, and the us vs. them mentality that is becoming increasingly common in American policing.
To learn more about the evolution of policing in the U.S., check out the video below.