In Utah vs Streiff the USSC allowed evidence seized after an unlawful stop to be used against the defendant. Basically, an officer stopped Steiff without having the required reasonable suspicion to do so. During the course of the stop the officer obtained Steiff’s identification and found that he a had an arrest warrant for a minor violation. He arrested Steiff and, in a search incident to arrest, found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.
Normally, evidence seized during an unlawful search is suppressed. Additionally, any fruits of unlawful actions by the police are also tossed. In this case it was argued that, even though there was a warrant and a search incident to an arrest might be ok, the whole thing was tainted by the bad stop. The idea is that the exclusion of evidence is a deterrent to bad acts.
NPR just covered this briefly but the average person would take from their coverage that now police can stop and search anyone and any evidence seized will stay in. This will happen more to people of color because so many such people have minor warrants out for them and the police, knowing this, will stop people and demand ID just hoping for a warrant arrest and the accompanying “free search”. The guest made a point of noting that the warrant was for a minor violation and not a serious crime. It wasn’t clear to me what that had to do with anything. A warrant is a warrant. The underlying offense is of no consequence.
Justice Sotomayor wrote a scathing dissent. I can’t say I disagree with her about throwing out the evidence but if the cop learns that there is a warrant during an unlawful stop he is obligated to make the arrest and search the person. The arrest itself can’t be suppressed and the person still goes to jail until the original warrant is cleared up.
I also don’t see how this decision will lead to an increase in unlawful stops. If the police really want to target a segment of the population they can (and do) make “stop & check ID” stops without sufficient legal cause. Having evidence thrown out would be an annoyance but the real goal is to simply make the arrest. The court won’t order someone arrested on an existing warrant released because the stop was bad.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone such practices. I just don’t think this case will make them any more common than they already are. The remedy for victims these tactics would to sue for violations of civil rights or to make enough noise that someone (FBI?) would look into the allegations. The increased use of body cams should also cut down on unlawful stops.
BTW, It also helps if you don’t have warrants out for your arrest. If Steiff didn’t, he would most likely walked away from that encounter. The fact that so many people seem to have them doesn’t make it OK. Until the criminal justice system is completely overhauled, its a good idea to go to court and pay your fines when your supposed to. The local courts where I live will go to great lengths to accommodate people who have trouble paying fines by way of very reasonable payment plans. I can’t speak for what goes on in big cities.