The Supreme Court Just Destroyed The 4th Amendment — The Police State Is Official Now
Welcome to the police state
As Congress refuses to pass measures to protect us from mass shootings because it would undermine the Second Amendment, the Supreme Court just threw the Fourth Amendment and its protections from being illegally searched by police out the window.
In the conclusion of Utah v. Strieff, a case which started with Edward Strieff’s arrest more than 10 years ago, the Supreme Court held that evidence that was obtained illegally is admissible in court.
In December 2006, Streiff was living in a suspected drug house in Utah. Police surveilled him leaving the house, then stopped him in an investigatory detention, something which requires reasonable suspicion to perform. Police found that he had an outstanding warrant for a traffic violation and arrested him, then searched the house in incident to the arrest and found drug paraphernalia and meth.
While searches incident to a lawful arrest have been legal since the mid 1900s to prevent the destruction of evidence, state courts had found that police lacked probable cause for Strieff’s initial stop, making the whole incident a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
The Supreme Court held that discovering Strieff’s arrest warrant during the unlawful stop, legally speaking, broke off and restarted the chain of events and made everything which happened afterwards lawful, which makes absolutely no sense.
How did this happen? Isn’t the Court supposed to be eternally deadlocked as GOP representatives block Obama from nominating a replacement for Antonin Scalia, who died in February?
Yes. Yes, it is. With four conservative justices and four liberal justices all voting along party lines, and every case being divided into party lines even when one outcome clearly discards a key constitutional protection you would expect conservatives to cling to like Saran Wrap, SCOTUS making any decisions right now requires one judge to break ranks. So who broke ranks this time?
It was Stephen Breyer, a Bill Clinton appointee. Of course it was a Clinton appointee.
With Hillary Clinton lined up to oppose Donald Trump in the general election, a candidate who many assume will turn the U.S. into a fascist Hellscape if elected, one of her husband’s Supreme Court appointees just nudged the U.S. much closer to a fascist Hellscape.
This may seem easy to rationalize, but situations like Strieff’s are exactly what the Founding Fathers wanted to avoid when they wrote the Fourth Amendment. In America, police are supposed to gather evidence before making an arrest, not in the process to retroactively justify said arrest. When police mess this up, which as human beings they often do, evidence gathered that way is supposed to be thrown out of court, discouraging police from jumping the gun. If they do go too far, their efforts will be wasted. This decision gives a green light to police to go ahead and make that questionable arrest and find evidence to justify it later.
Sotomayor is furious
Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, wrote an irate 12-page dissent that is grabbing as many headlines as the decision itself. She comes out of the gate swinging, summarizing the entire situation in the first few sentences-
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. Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This 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.
Other highlights include her accurately summarizing the implied logic of the decision
To the Court, the fact that a warrant gives an officer cause to arrest a person severs the connection between illegal policing and the resulting discovery of evidence. Ante, at 7. This is a remarkable proposition: The mere existence of a warrant not only gives an officer legal cause to arrest and search a person, it also forgives an officer who, with no knowledge of the warrant at all, unlawfully stops that person on a whim or hunch.
And putting it all in terms a first grader could understand
…a basic principle lies at the heart of the Fourth Amendment: Two wrongs don’t make a right.
The full text of her dissent, as well as Kagan’s dissent and the majority opinion, can be found here.
Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images
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Leopold Knopp is a film critic who was forced entirely against his will to also take up journalism. After years of award-winning misadventures at the college level, he’s landed at Reverbpress to follow the cartoonish 2016 presidential election and its aftermath. For movie stuff, check out reelentropy.com.