Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Absent Scalia, SCOTUS Issues Bizarre Fourth Amendment Ruling

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court, still absent one justice following the death earlier this year of Anton Scalia, ruled that evidence obtained after the warrant arrest of a suspect is admissible despite the fact that the basis for detaining the suspect violated the Fourth Amendment.

Writing for the five-justice majority in Utah v. Strieff, Justice Thomas held that, although the officer in question had no reasonable, articulable suspicion to initially detain Strieff, the existence of an active warrant for his arrest gave the officer complete authority under the Fourth Amendment to search Strieff after placing him in custody.  All three female justices--Sotomayor, Kagan and Ginsberg--dissented and pointed out that the discovery of the warrant and the arrest could not have taken place but for the unconstitutional detention of the suspect.  The dissent opined that this ruling will only encourage police to indiscriminantly stop and detain young minorities in a fishing expedition of hoping to find some with active warrants.

Colorado case law holds differently than SCOTUS in this area.  In People v. Martinez, (08SA317) issued seven years ago, the Colorado Supreme Court held that the unlawful detention of a suspect resulting in the discovery of a warrant and subsequent arrest tainted any evidence discovered as the result of the arrest.  Therefore, in the wake of Strieff, Colorado currently offers greater Fourth Amendment protection for persons unlawfully detained by the police who are subsequently found to have active warrants.

As you can see, the Constitutional aspects of criminal law are complex and ever-changing, and the assistance of a seasoned attorney is essential in exploring all aspects of defending a criminal charge.

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