By Gabriel Maliha
Gabriel Maliha is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying criminology.
On June 20th, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Utah Supreme Court in Utah v. Strieff, a case that provided a significant clarification of the exclusionary rule, which prohibits illegally obtained evidence from being admitted into the court. A police detective stopped Edward Strieff when he was seen exiting a suspected “drug house” in order to inquire about activities at the residence. A routine check on the defendant’s name turned up an outstanding arrest warrant for traffic violation, and the detective arrested and searched Strieff and found methamphetamines and drug paraphernalia. While the state admitted that the original stop was illegal, the trial court denied a motion to suppress the drug evidence used to convict the defendant, a move that the state appeals court affirmed. However, the Utah Supreme Court reversed Strieff’s conviction, based on the illegal manner in which the evidence had been obtained.   
The Supreme Court reflected on three points of inflection in Utah v. Strieff: the police stop, the arrest, and the search. The state had already stipulated that the stop was illegal and that the detective had no legal ground to stop Strieff. But the majority of the court indicated that the detective had an obligation to arrest Strieff once he discovered an outstanding warrant. The fact that the warrant was for a minor violation did not diminish that responsibility. The court also maintained that a search incident to an arrest is unquestionably legal, for the purpose of ensuring officer safety and preventing escape and destruction of evidence, as well as consistent with multiple court precedents.  .
Writing for the majority, Justice Thomas found that the Utah Supreme Court erred in excluding the evidence used to convict the defendant. This was for several reasons: first, because the illegal police conduct in stopping Strieff did not amount to a “flagrant” and “systemic” violation of the Fourth Amendment, since the detective was pursuing a legitimate investigation of a suspected drug house. And, second, because the discovery of an outstanding arrest warrant against defendant was an unrelated “intervening” event to the original purpose of the stop. However, Justice Sotomayor vociferously dissented, accusing the majority of vitiating the Fourth Amendment and ruling in essence that “a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of Fourth Amendment rights.” Furthermore, she suggested that the majority’s ruling would sanction police stops that “corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives.” 
The Fourth Amendment states that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”   Courts have for the most part defined “reasonable” as pursuant to a warrant. However, there are some important exceptions, including witnessed crimes, searches following arrests, safety concerns, contraband in public view smelled or visible to the naked eye, as well as in cases of suspected ongoing destruction of evidence. The courts have also allowed brief detentions by police (so-called “Terry stops”) on less than probable-cause evidence when the police suspect a crime. Furthermore, the courts have upheld the legality of warrantless DUI, border (including “quick look” searches of electronic devices), and TSA checkpoints.
The Fourth Amendment underwent little discussion during the process of its ratification and essentially no stated opinions by the Framers exist as how to enforce it. However, there are thousands of documented cases (during the life of the Framers and afterwards) of courts admitting evidence obtained in contravention to the Fourth. And since its enactment, aggrieved parties have remedied violations of the Fourth through civil litigations. The High Court first introduced the exclusionary rule in federal cases in its 1914 decision of Weeks v. United States, while its application to state courts did not occur until 1961 (Mapp v. Ohio).  
The exclusionary rule is a uniquely American remedy to illegal acquisition of evidence by police. Major court decisions in Australia, Canada, and the European Court of Human Rights have all denied suppression of evidence as a remedy for illegal behavior by police. While foreign law is irrelevant to our constitutional determinations, the approaches of courts in other Western democracies are instructive, especially in pointing out that the Fourth Amendment is silent on exclusion or other remedies. 
The exclusionary rule has faced opponents over the years. Justice Robert Jackson was famously quoted to have said that the rule “deprives society of its remedy against one lawbreaker because he has been pursued by another.” Its opponents advocate civil litigation, disciplinary action, and in some cases criminal prosecution as sufficient deterrent to law enforcement against violating the Fourth. Proponents suggest that the U.S. experience is borne of historical circumstances and the exclusionary rule proves to be the best incentive for police to follow the law. They further point out a serious concern of jury bias against convicted offenders who are suing police for unlawful searches and seizure, as well as the doubtful ability of convicts and other victims to finance civil litigation. Recent Courts, including the Roberts Court, have refined, narrowed, and clarified the rule in cases such as this one. 
Both the court’s majority and the dissenters have articulated valid concerns. Police must be deterred from violating the Fourth Amendment, but society’s interest in bringing offenders to justice must also be supported. The court did not exclude the evidence obtained following the illegal stop because it was obtained subsequent to a valid arrest warrant. It did not view the evidence as “the fruit of the poisonous tree.” But at the same time, it chose to apply previous precedent to a new case. In so doing, it did not break new legal ground or narrow in an obvious way—at least not technically—the exclusionary rule, a potential effect of the recent trend of compromise rulings as the Court awaits a ninth justice.
 Kerr, Orin. “Opinion analysis: The exclusionary rule is weakened but it still live.” SCOTUSBlog (June 20, 2016). http://www.scotusblog.com/2016/06/opinion-analysis-the-exclusionary-rule-is-weakened-but-it-still-lives.
 Kerr, Orin. “Argument analysis: Court closely divided on the exclusionary rule.” SCOTUSBlog (Feb. 22, 2016). http://www.scotusblog.com/2016/02/argument-analysis-court-closely-divided-on-the-exclusionary-rule.
 Kerr,Orin. “Argument preview: Utah v. Strieff and the future of the exclusionary rule.” SCOTUSBlog (Feb. 3, 2016). http://www.scotusblog.com/2016/02/argument-preview-utah-v-strieff-and-the-future-of-the-exclusionary-rule.
 UTAH v. STRIEFF, No. 14-1373, 579 U.S._(2016). http://www.Utah v. Strieff - Supreme Court.
 U.S. Const. amend. IV.
 Roots, Roger. “The Framers' Fourth Amendment Exclusionary Rule: The Mounting Evidence.” Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 15, No. 1, 2014. http://scholars.law.unlv.edu/nlj/vol15/iss1/3.
 Liptak, Adam. “U.S. Is Alone in Rejecting All Evidence if Police Err.” The New York Times. (July 19, 2008). http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/19/us/19exclude.html.
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