In a contentious 5-3 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court in Utah v. Strieff ruled in favor of a cop who seized drugs after an unlawful stop. It was only after that stop the officer learned the defendant had an outstanding traffic warrant. After making an arrest, the officer searched defendant and found drugs and paraphernalia. Plaintiff argued this evidence should be suppressed under the exclusionary rule.
However, the majority ruled that although the initial stop was not lawful, which would normally mean any evidence obtained thereafter could not be used against defendant, the court instead chose to apply the attenuation doctrine. This doctrine states that even though the way the evidence was obtained was illegal, such evidence can still be admissible if the connection between the evidence and the illegal method is sufficiently thin or attenuated. The court held that the officer made a good-faith mistake when stopping the defendant, who was leaving a suspected drug house. This was not, the court decided, part of some systematic recurrence of police misconduct and nor would the decision result in the proliferation of dragnet searches for those with outstanding arrest warrants.
Dissenting Justice Sonya Sotomayor, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, had strong words of rebuke for the majority on this issue, saying unlawful police stops, “Corrode all our civil liberties and threaten our lives.” Continue reading