On Monday, June 20, 2016, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas writing for the majority of the Supreme Court in the case of Utah vs. Strieff, declared that the exclusionary rule, which is used to toss out evidence tainted by an illegal investigatory detention, did not apply to the admittedly unconstitutional conduct of a Utah police officer once he discovered that defendant Edward Strieff had an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation. The court reasoned that because the outstanding warrant was sufficiently “attenuated” from Officer Douglas Fackrell’s conduct following Mr. Strieff’s unlawful investigatory detention, the officer’s subsequent arrest, search and seizure of evidence from Mr. Strieff was “indisputably lawful.” The court excused Officer Fackrell’s as “negligent,” characterized his unconstitutional conduct as a “good faith mistake,” and therefore and did not find his conduct to be a “purposeful or flagrant violation” of Mr. Strieff’s Fourth Amendment Rights.
Three Associate Justices, Kagen, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor filed two separate dissenting opinions. Tal Kopan of CNN Politics reported that Associate Justice Sotomayor’s fiery dissent emphasized Illegal Stops ‘Corrode All Our Civil Liberties.’ Sotomayor stated plainly, “the officer found Strieff’s drugs by exploiting his own constitutional violation, the drugs should be excluded. “ Justice Sotomayor emphasized “the Utah Supreme Court described as “routine procedure” or “’common practice’” the decision of Salt Lake City police officers to run warrant checks on pedestrians they detained without reasonable suspicion.” With this ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Utah Supreme Court’s decision to exclude the seized evidence.
Lawman notes that this is another sad day in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court which has chosen to favor what can only be characterized as moving this country a significant step closer to martial law. With this ruling, Lawman realizes the unfortunate truth; it is now open season for any officer in the country to hide behind this unfortunate U.S. Supreme Court which significantly diminishes citizens’ rights to be free of unconstitutional harassment by police officers. Cops may benefit from unlawfully detaining and investigating citizens without reasonable suspicion in order to run warrants checks with the hopes of finding any type of warrant or citation to use as justification to conduct a full scale custodial arrest and search of a citizen. Lawman’s own professional experience mirrors that of Justice Sotomayor. Individuals of color and those of lower socio-economic status are disproportionately likely to be subjected to “suspicion-less” stops and disproportionately likely to have warrants for minor traffic offenses and violations of ordinances. Therefore, it is these groups of citizens and their communities that will be disproportionately impacted with the type of policing conducted by Officer Fackrell. In the face of this ruling, Lawman believes it will take considerable and continuous activism by the affected communities to reign in law enforcement in order to curtail the wholesale use of this U.S. Supreme Court decision as a means to routinely violate citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights.