The Supreme Court’s Controversial Interpretation of the Fourth Amendment

Yesterday, in a 5-to-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Utah v. Strief, affirming that evidence found after illegal stops is admissible in court so long as officers first confirm that the defendants have outstanding warrants prior to conducting a search. Adam Liptak covered the decision in The New York Times.

The case started when a police officer stopped Edward Strieff after Streiff left a house being monitored for drug activity. After learning that Strieff had an existing warrant for a traffic violation, the officer proceeded to search the vehicle and found methamphetamines.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, stated that as long as the pre-existing warrant is valid, the subsequent search does not violate the Fourth Amendment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a vehement dissent, arguing that if an officer finds out that you have a warrant out, even for a minor offense, “courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant.”

The Fourth Amendment was designed to prevent law enforcement from conducting searches based on little to no evidence, making Utah v. Strief a very consequential and controversial interpretation of the Fourth Amendment for citizens around the nation.

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