WASHINGTON, DC– As many Americans are recovering from 4th of July festivities – unpacking their picnic baskets, traveling back home after a long weekend, or putting their red, white and blue away until Labor Day. So it’s ironic that a week prior to the day that millions of Americans celebrated their freedom and independence, the Supreme Court made a major ruling that affects your Fourth Amendment rights as an American.
In late June, the Supreme Court finished out its current term by making rulings on a number of major cases. Though arguably, access to abortions generated the most media coverage, another decision was made that didn’t generate much media attention, but affects Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures and probable cause. Specifically, the decision in the Utah v. Strieff case could impact the issue of profiling in America.
An Anonymous Tip
In 2006 in Utah, a white male who left someone’s home and was walking to his car in a parking lot was stopped by law enforcement and told to remain there. The detective wanted to know what was going on inside the house after receiving an anonymous tip. While Strieff waited, the officer discovered that Strieff had an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation. As a result, Strieff was searched and drug paraphernalia was discovered in his pockets. Strieff was then charged with drug-related offenses. The problem with this scenario is that Strieff was stopped without reasonable suspicion. And according to the constitution, when police illegally stop an individual on the street without reasonable suspicion, any fruits of that stop—such as the discovery of illegal drugs—may not be used in court, because the stop was “unreasonable seizure” under the Fourth Amendment.
However, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that the evidence obtained during the event in Utah could be used in court. Again, up until this case, law enforcement had to cite a reason for stopping the person. To detain someone, you had to have reasonable suspicion that a crime was being committed or was about to be committed. That fell aside with this decision, because the court found that if an officer illegally stops an individual then discovers an arrest warrant—even for an incredibly minor crime, like a traffic violation—the stop is then legitimized, and any evidence seized can be used in court.
Connection to Motorcycle Profiling
This should raise red flags for some in the motorcycle community who have already begun to voice concerns about being at greater risk of being stopped arbitrarily by law enforcement. The issue of profiling and motorcyclists has started to gain traction after a law in Maryland was passed in May addressing the issue. Washington passed a similar bill in 2011.
How the Supreme Court’s decision will play out has yet to be determined, but it certainly sparks questions about the Fourth Amendment going forward.
You can read the Supreme Court Decision here: