The Supreme Court ruled that courts need not suppress evidence of a crime even if the arresting police officer used unlawful tactics to obtain it. The decision prompted fierce dissents from three of the court’s liberals.
The court voted 5 to 3 to reverse a decision of the Utah Supreme Court that threw out the drug possession evidence seized from Edward Strieff in 2006. The majority agreed that South Salt Lake police officer Douglas Fackrell did not have reasonable suspicion to stop Strieff. But once Fackrell radioed in and found that there was an outstanding warrant on Strieff for a traffic violation, his search that turned up the drugs was legitimate.
“While Officer Fackrell’s decision to initiate the stop was mistaken, his conduct thereafter was lawful,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority. He said the intervening discovery of the warrant meant that the search that discovered the drugs was allowed.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer joined the court’s conservatives in the majority.
But Breyer’s fellow liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan each wrote blistering dissents, and each was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“The court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights,” Sotomayor wrote.
And writing only for herself and drawing on her “professional experiences,” Sotomayor added that “unlawful ‘stops’ have severe consequences much greater than the inconvenience suggested by the name.” She said that minorities are more likely to be the subjects of such stops, and thus to be treated as “second-class citizens.”