UTAH V. STRIEFF: AN UNFORTUNATE DECISION BY THE UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

The Fourth Amendment protects anyone in the United States from illegal searches and seizures by the govement.  This is an amendment that helps  to make the U.S. a truly FREE country.

Many decades ago, the United States Supreme Court fashioned an “excusionary rule” that prohibits the goverment from using illegally obtained evidence against the person charged with a crime.  The exclusionary rule is the “teeth” behind the Fourth Amendment, and any time the United States Supreme Court limits or narrows this rule, we all lose a valuable right.  While many of us will never be charged with a crime, the rights that protect us are still there if we  need them.

Utah v. Strieff is a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that concerns the Fourth Amendment.  In this case, a Utah man was stopped by the police and arrested on a warrant.  He was also charged with possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia and later convicted.  Here is the issue:  The stop was unlawful, so shouldn’t the evidence have been excluded?  Of course it should have.  Unfortuately, a majority of the Supreme Court does not agree.

The rationale of the majority is what is most disturbing.  The illegal stop is characterized as “negligence” on the part of the police.  Does this mean that an an illegal stop is not illegal if the officer was merely negligent?  Put another way, does this mean that it is o.k. for an officer to violate someone’s rights so long as they are negligent?

The state courts have the right to offer greater protection under their own constitutions than are offered by the U.S. Consititution.  Hopefully, our Supreme Judicial Court in Masschusetts, and the highest courts of other state will not follow this majority opinion.

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