7Sep 2016
Sep 7, 2016

The Supreme Court Ruling on Illegal Stops: A Trample to Democracy?

It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy, but the subject of a cartel state, just waiting to be cataloged.” stated by The Supreme Court Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in dissenting the new ruling released by The Supreme Court on Monday, June 20, 2016 in connection to the Utah v. Strieff case.

The Supreme Court has sided with 5 to 3 votes to the state of Utah, about how police officers can use any evidence found in court from unlawful search if the officers found that there is an outstanding arrest warrant against the individual. This case was first submitted to the court for trial because of one illegal stop made by an officer to suspicious individual back in 2006, stating that the unlawful stop is against democracy and human rights.

On December 2006 Douglas Fackrell, Utah Police Detective, began surveillance in a suspected drug den in South Salt Lake, Utah, after receiving a tip about the narcotics activity in the location. Fackrell then stopped Edward Strieff Jr. after seeing him exiting the house and was detained, identified and questioned. During the assessment of Strieff, the police officer found out that he has outstanding traffic violation arrest warrant, which leads him to search the offender, and discovered methamphetamine and a drug pipe in his possession. This arrest situation lead to the filing of the case, Utah v. Strieff, No. 14-1373, about the treatment of the evidence which can be found out of the illegal stop could be used as evidence against the offender, given that it was unlawful stop. The case was first argued on February 22, 2016, and arrived at a decision on June 20, 2016.1

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for majority of the Supreme Court members, stated that the evidence was admissible due to the valid arrest warrant (traffic violation) which intervened in the situation which made the evidence valid to be used in court, and break the causal chain between the illegal stop and the drug-related evidence against Strieff.2 Case opinion of Justice Thomas was agreed on and joined by Roberts, Kennedy, Breyer, and Alito. Justices who have dissented on the decision were Sotomayor and Kagan, joined by Ginsburg.2

Justice Thomas’ statement on the case that “While Officer Fackrell’s decision to initiate the stop was mistaken, his conduct thereafter was lawful, that the evidence is admissible when the connection between unconstitutional police conduct and the evidence is remote or has been interrupted by some intervening circumstance” was dissented primarily by Sotomayor, stating that by allowing this case, it also means that any cop can stop anyone, interrogate for identification and check for any outstanding warrants even if there is not initial probable cause a certain individual should be stopped. Sotomayor also added that by legalizing this act by our cops, it is a clear violation of human rights and against democracy. She stated that with the majority ruling, it “creates unfortunate incentives for the police”.

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