Seizure of Drugs Found During Illegal Stop Upheld
- June 21, 2016
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In Utah v. Edward Strieff, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ability of police to obtain a conviction based upon drugs found in his vehicle during an illegal stop. Justice Clarence Thomas provided the decision of the Court holding that an individual’s Fourth Amendment Rights are not violated if an officer, in the process of an illegal stop, finds a warrant for the Defendant’s arrest and the search incident to arrest leads to the discovery of evidence. A residence in Salt Lake City was being monitored following an anonymous report of drug activity. After an officer watched random individuals come and go from the residence, he stopped Streiff and discovered that Streiff had an outstanding warrant for a prior traffic violation. The stop was later determined to be unlawful as the officer lacked probable cause to stop the vehicle and there was no reasonable suspicion with regard to any particular individual. Based on the warrant the officer took Streiff into custody and conducted a search incident to arrest. During the search, the officer found Streiff to be in possession of methamphetamines and drug paraphernalia. Streiff filed a motion to suppress the narcotics based upon the unlawful stop and the matter was litigated through the courts and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to this case based on the Fourth Amendment rights involved. The United States Supreme Court was divided 5 to 3 on the issue. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissent indicating her belief that the ruling will have a disproportionate effect on “people of color” although Edward Streiff is a white male. Sotomayor further indicated she believed the decision greatly increase the power of police going so far as allowing them to conduct random stops to check for warrants even if they had no belief any crime was afoot. Sotomayor included that the 8 million open warrants in the U.S. mean many are subject to prosecution based on evidence seized as a result of illegal and pretextual stops and included that such stops “corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives” referring to those “black and brown” people most often targeted. The majority opinion of the court was that the evidence was not “fruit of the poisonous tree” as established in Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471 (1963) as it fell under the “attenuation doctrine” set forth in Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586 (2006) to the exclusionary rule established in Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914). Weeks held that evidence resulting from an unlawful search could not be used by the prosecution. The court, in Hudson v. Michigan, held that evidence from an illegal search could be admissible when the connection between the unconstitutional conduct of the police and the discovery of the evidence is “sufficiently remote” or there are “intervening circumstances.” Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586, 593. The reasoning offered in Streiff was that the discovery of the warrant was sufficient to break the causal link between the illegal stop and the discovery of the controlled dangerous substances (CDS) thereby rendering the methamphetamines a product of the warrant rather than the illegal stop. The court did leave room for future litigation with regard to good faith actions on the part of the officer finding that in the case of Streiff the officer was at worst negligent. Sotomayor’s dissent indicated that good faith must be rejected when the sole purpose of the stop was to search for evidence which would prove drug activity was going on in the residence. Drug charges can destroy your future and you are subject to greater consequences each time you are convicted of a drug charge. If you are facing drug charges for possession or distribution, you should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. For more information about controlled dangerous substance (CDS) charges, distribution, possession, driving under the influence charges, paraphernalia or CDS in a motor vehicle visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes only and not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.