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Illegal Search and Seizure: New Supreme Court Decision Changes the Rules

In May of this year, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision that fundamentally changed your right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment. Imagine that a police officer stops you without cause and then, without your knowledge or permission, the officer runs your name through the database and ultimately finds a warrant that you didn’t know you had. Because of this completely unrelated warrant, the officer decides to perform a search of you and your car and finds a illegal drugs. He then places you under arrest for these drugs. Later you find out that the officer had suspected you of dealing drugs and for that reason, pulled you over. Technically the stop was illegal because he did not have any probable cause. So, can the prosecution use the drugs the officer found during the illegal stop as evidence against you in court?

As of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Utah v. Strieff, it seems that the answer is yes.

Fourth Amendment Right to Privacy Expectations Before Utah v. Streiff

The Fourth Amendment is a key component of the Bill of Rights and was adopted as part of the Constitution over 200 years ago. The Bill of Rights, being the first ten amendments of the Constitution, were a response to state demands for increased protection of personal liberties. One such liberty is the reasonable expectation of privacy. One would think they are free of unlawful searches and seizures as part of the constitutional privacy mandate, but as a result of the Strieff decision, the line is now murkier.

Prior to the Streiff decision, courts often used the “Attenuation Doctrine” as a test in determining whether evidence obtained during an illegal police stop could be used against you in court. Essentially, the rule was that evidence couldn’t be used against you in criminal court unless there was an intervening circumstance, that wasn’t directly related to the illegal stop, which would have given the officer probable cause to perform a search. In the Strieff case, the U.S. Supreme Court found that learning of the warrant satisfied the doctrine and thus even though the stop was illegal, the search was perfectly ok.

Fourth Amendment Right to Privacy Expectations After Utah v. Streiff

In Utah v. Strieff, the police officer suspected the defendant of participating in a drug ring. He had seen the defendant leave a house he believed was part of the illegal activities. Subsequently the officer pulled him over without probable cause. After learning of an unrelated warrant, he used the warrant as a reason to perform a search that ultimately yielded the discovery of drugs.

Many may feel that if the defendant had drugs on him, then he should be found guilty of related charges. The bigger issue, however, is whether or not police officers have essentially been given permission to perform illegal stops as a means to an end without worry of consequences. Critics argue that this violates the intent of the Fourth Amendment.

Call us Today for Fourth Amendment Questions

Many people do not even know they have arrest warrants, and if you are illegally stopped and subsequently searched, is vitally important that you contact an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible. Phillip J. Murphy is one of New York’s preeminent criminal defense attorneys with decades of experience in drug offenses in New York and surrounding states. Please call today for a free consultation. We answer and return phone calls 24/7.

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