Supreme Court allows use of evidence after unlawful stop

Supreme Court allows use of evidence after unlawful stop

The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday in Utah v. Strieff [SCOTUSblog materials] that evidence seized incident to a lawful arrest on an outstanding warrant is not excluded because that warrant was discovered during an unlawful stop. The court, in a 5-3 decision, reversed the decision [opinion, PDF] of the Utah Supreme Court [official website], which found that the exclusionary rule applied. The ruling ultimately does not overrule Wong Sun v. United States, but merely applies the Brown factors [Justia materials] and determines [SCOTUSblog analysis] that suppression is unwarranted in this matter. In applying the Brown factors the majority concluded that the constitutional violation [Fourth Amendment text] was “at most negligent” and in “good faith” therefore preventing suppression. Justice Sonia Sotomayer filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined in part. Sotomayor wrote, “[d]o 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.” Justice Elena Kagan also filed a dissent, joined by Ginsburg.

In this case the police received an anonymous tip that narcotics were being sold in a house, and the house was put under surveillance for suspicious activity. During the surveillance, a detective stopped Edward Strieff while he was exiting the house to ask some questions. The detective asked for ID and ran a warrant check, which returned a “small traffic warrant.” The detective arrested Strieff and found drug paraphernalia incident to the arrest. Strieff has argued that the initial stop was illegal since the detective did not have reasonable suspicion.