A recent Supreme Court ruling means that evidence obtained after an illegal stop may now be admitted into court under certain circumstances. As long as the search is conducted after an arrest warrant is discovered, any evidence that is uncovered can be used against a defendant. This decision allows police to stop individuals on the street for any reason, or for no reason at all.
Is this the First Step in the Disappearance of the Fourth Amendment?
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution is designed to protect individuals in America from searches and seizures that are considered to be unreasonable. Normally, evidence that is seized after an unlawful search will not be admissible in court. This is commonly referred to as “the exclusionary rule”, and it has been in effect since 1914. In addition to this rule, the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine keeps any evidence that is derived from an illegal search from being used against a defendant.
Outstanding arrest warrants are very common. When an individual forgets to pay a fine for something as minor as a parking ticket, or misses a court appearance, a warrant can be issued. That person can then be arrested and searched. If evidence of a crime is discovered, it can be used to charge the individual with another offense. Under the Fourth Amendment, however, law enforcement officials are not allowed to stop an individual or search his or her property without reasonable cause, a warrant, or permission from the person. Searches that are conducted after the discovery of a valid arrest warrant and not connected to the reason for the unlawful stop, though, are not in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, any evidence discovered in such a situation is admissible.
The Impact of Admitting Unlawfully Obtained Evidence
According to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s recent decision could affect the rights of millions of individuals throughout the United States. There are currently more than 7.8 million outstanding arrest warrants showing up in federal and state databases, with thousands right here in Minnesota. The majority of these warrants are for minor violations.
When police officers are forgiven for unlawfully stopping an individual, and illegally obtained evidence is allowed to be admitted into court, it encourages law enforcement officials to participate in the very actions that the Fourth Amendment was designed to prohibit.