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A new US Supreme Court decision will allow police to stop, detain and search citizens without a warrant anytime they want, according to at least one justice.
“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 Sonia Sotomayor warned in a dissent this week in Utah vs. Edward Joseph Strieff Jr.
“The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights,” Sotomayor wrote in her dissent.
Court Upholds Warrantless Search
The case involved Strieff, who was stopped and questioned by a detective after walking out of a suspected drug house in South Salt Lake City. The detective had no warrant and no evidence Strieff had done anything wrong, but he still took the man’s ID and ran it through a police database.
The database revealed that there was a warrant for Strieff for illegal drug possession, and he was arrested and charged. His attorneys appealed to the Utah Supreme Court, which ruled his Fourth Amendment tights had been violated.
The Supreme Court reversed that decision this week along a 5-3 vote. Sotomayor and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan dissented. Chief Justice John Roberts, and justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy supported the ruling.
Thomas said the detective’s “discovery of the arrest warrant attenuated the connection between the unlawful stop and the evidence seized incident to arrest.”
“This Court has allowed an officer to stop you for whatever reason he wants—so long as he can point to a pretextual justification after the fact,” Sotomayor wrote. “When we condone officers’ use of these devices without adequate cause, we give them reason to target pedestrians in an arbitrary manner. We also risk treating members of our communities as second-class citizens.”
“The officer’s control over you does not end with the stop,” Sotomayor added. “If the officer chooses, he may handcuff you and take you to jail for doing nothing more than speeding, jaywalking, or ‘driving [your] pickup truck . . . with [your] 3-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter . . . without [your] seatbelt fastened.’
“It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged,” Sotomayor wrote.
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