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State of Utah Prevails In SCOTUS Case Deciding Limits On 4th Amendment Rights

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United States Supreme Court Building

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 5-3 in favor of the state of Utah in a case exploring the limits of a person’s 4th amendment rights.

In the Case of The State of Utah v Edward Strieff the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to decide if evidence gathered after an illegal stop could be used against a defendant. The Justices ultimately ruled that in this case it could, but only because of a set of very specific circumstances and exceptions known as the attenuation doctrine.

“This is a doctrine that says if there’s some reason, either distance in time, or some other significant intervening event, between the original, what turned out to be an unconstitutionally stop, and the discovery evidence that should break the causal chain and the evidence should be admissible,” says Utah Solicitor General Tyler Green.

He says the case is centered on an event that took place in 2006 between South Salt Lake Police Detective Douglas Fackrell and Edward Strieff.

Fackrell stopped Strieff after he had left a house suspected to be used for selling drugs. After running Strieff’s ID, Fackrell discovered there was a warrant out for his arrest. Fackrell then arrested Strieff and in a subsequent search found that he had a bag of methamphetamines. That evidence was used to charge Strieff with a crime.

While the state concedes that the original stop was unconstitutional, their argument is that the discovery of a warrant was an intervening event and changes the reason Fackerell searched Strieff.

But, in a statement sent to KUER, Strieff’s attorney, Joan Watt, says the ruling is a blow to everyone’s right to be free from police interference. Watt also references the words of Justice Sonia Sottomayor who in the dissenting opinion wrote,

“This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants – even if you are doing nothing wrong.”

But Tyler Green argues the ruling doesn’t go that far.

“The court was clear that in this case, it only applies to good faith innocent mistakes by officers," he says. "If there’s some evidence of bad faith out there, the evidence is going to be suppressed.”

The ruling ends any ambiguity surrounding Strieff’s case. He pleaded guilty to the charges several years ago and has already served a probation sentence.

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