Utah v. Strieff, SCOTUS No. 14–1373. Argued February 22, 2016—Decided June 20, 2016. Episode 185 (Duration 13:49)
Does the discovery of a valid arrest warrant sufficiently intervene to break the causal chain between an unlawful stop and the discovery of drug-related evidence?
Officer has a tip of a drug house.
Over a week he sees people coming in and out of the house. Then he sees defendant come out of the house. Follows him to a gas station where he stops him.
Discovers defendant had a warrant. Arrests him and finds drugs.
SCOTUS said that even though the stop was illegal no evidence needed to be suppressed because the search warrant sufficiently attenuated the taint of the bad stop.
In the 20th century the exclusionary rule became the principal judicial remedy to deter Fourth Amendment violations.
But the significant costs of this rule have led the court to apply it only where its deterrence benefits outweigh its substantial social costs.
Suppression of evidence has always been their last resort, not our first impulse. The attenuation doctrine holds that evidence discovered after an illegal seizure is admissible when the connection between unconstitutional police conduct and the evidence is remote or has been interrupted by some intervening circumstance, so that “the interest protected by the constitutional guarantee that has been violated would not be served by suppression of the evidence obtained.”
Thomas wrote that the warrant discovered after this stop was entirely unconnected to the stop itself…and the attenuation doctrine reflects that rationale by favoring exclusion only when the police misconduct is most in need of deterrence—that is, when it is purposeful or flagrant.
Purposeful & Flagrant
Here the officer was at most negligent.
The officer’s errors in judgment hardly rise to a purposeful or flagrant violation of Strieff ’s Fourth Amendment rights.
Moreover, there is no indication that this unlawful stop was part of any systemic or recurrent police misconduct.
Applying these factors, the majority held that the evidence discovered on Strieff ’s person was admissible because the unlawful stop was sufficiently attenuated by the preexisting arrest warrant.
See the dissent for a strong reaction.