A clearly divided Supreme Court ruled on Monday that evidence obtained by police officers, even if done so by illegal means, may be used in court.
Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor sent a word of caution to her peers, warning of possible civil rights violations.
“By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time,” Sotomayor wrote in her dissenting opinion. “It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”
The 5-3 decision ruling stems from a case in South Salt Lake City, Utah where police detective Douglas Fackrell stopped a man based on an anonymous tip about a “suspected drug house”. After conducting surveillance on the residence, Fackrell saw Joseph Edward Strieff leaving. The detective detained Strieff in a nearby parking lot. Strieff handed over his identification. Fackrell ran a name check through a police dispatch, discovering an outstanding warrant for a traffic violation. The detective arrested Strieff, did a routine search and found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.
The stop raised the question of whether the warrant trumps the stop, in which the detective had no valid suspicion to believe Strieff was even in volation in the law. The court was to decide whether the detective used illegal means to find the evidence.
The Court found that the stop was illegal, but the outstanding warrant for Strieff was “a critical intervening circumstance that is wholly independent of the illegal stop.”
Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote for the majority stating the searches are not in violation of the Fourth Amendment. “While Officer Fackrell’s decision to initiate the stop was mistaken, his conduct thereafter was lawful.”
The Utah v. Strieff ruling is what Sotomayor foresees as future consequences for minorities.
“The white defendant in this case shows that anyone’s dignity can be violated in this manner. But it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny,” she wrote.
Sotomayor really hammers in her point, driving in an age-old message children of color are taught from the very beginning.
“For generations, black and brown parents have given their children “the talk”—instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger—all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them. See, e.g., W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903); J. Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963); T. Coates, Between the World and Me (2015).”