Utah v. Strieff Impinges Your Constitutional Rights

Just recently, the Supreme Court of the United States made a monumental decision that can affect your constitutional rights, guaranteed to you under the Fourth Amendment. Unfortunately, when it comes to your rights, the Supreme Court decision is not good news.

Utah v. Strieff

The case, Utah v. Strieff, started back in December of 2006. Utah police suspected that drugs were being sold out of a house, and were watching it. The police officer watching the house saw Edward Strieff leave the house. The cop followed him, detained him, and demanded that Mr. Strieff show his identification. When the officer ran his ID, he found that there was a warrant out for Mr. Strieff’s arrest. While arresting Mr. Strieff, the officer searched him, and found drugs. Mr. Strieff was charged with drug possession.

Mr. Strieff’s lawyer argued that the drug evidence should be thrown out, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court.
The Unconstitutional Detention

For police to put you in custody, they need probable cause. Everyone, even the Utah police, agreed that there was no probable cause to suspect Mr. Strieff of committing a crime. After all, the only thing that Mr. Strieff had done was leave a house that police thought might have drug activity. This is not a crime.
Evidence Found Through Unconstitutional Means is Usually Thrown Out

If an unconstitutional search or seizure finds evidence of a crime, that evidence is usually thrown out. This is called the exclusionary rule. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. One of them is the attenuation exception.
The Attenuation Exception Allows Illegally Obtained Evidence to be Used

If the evidence found is sufficiently removed from the unconstitutional search or seizure, then it is considered attenuated, and will not be excluded from the trial. Attenuation can happen if a lot of time passes, or an independent event occurs between the unconstitutional act and the discovery of the evidence that breaks the connection between the two.

In Utah v. Strieff, the Supreme Court decided that such an independent event occurred: The finding of the arrest warrant. Once the arrest warrant was found, the Court said, the search that found the drugs on Mr. Strieff was merely “ministerial.”

However, the Court overlooked one glaring fact. The arrest warrant never would have been found if the unconstitutional seizure had not happened in the first place. By detaining Mr. Strieff and demanding to see his ID, the police officer conducted an unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Finding out that there was a warrant out for Mr. Strieff’s arrest was an independent event, yes, but it was also a necessary one to follow from the unconstitutional detention.

The Federal Criminal Law Center Defends Your Rights

The case Utah v. Strieff is a significant blow to your Fourth Amendment rights, because it allows evidence to be produced in a trial against you, despite the violation of your rights, in many more circumstances. We will go over the impact of this decision in a future blog post.

If you have been charged with a federal crime, contact the Federal Criminal Law Center online.