Illegal Stop OK with Valid Arrest Warrant

In a decision that affects criminal defendants throughout the country, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that an illegal stop of a person becomes acceptable if an officer discovers the driver has an outstanding warrant.  The Court further ruled that any illegal contraband discovered as a result of the arrest on the warrant is admissible in court.  This post explains the background of the case and how it impacts real life individuals.

Illegal Stop

The case comes from Utah where officers were conducting surveillance on a suspected drug house.  Edward Streiff, the defendant in the case, exited the house and was stopped by the police.  After the police relayed his ID to a dispatcher, the officer became aware of an outstanding traffic violation.  Streiff was arrested, and in a search incident to arrest, the officer found drugs and paraphernalia.

Both sides agreed that this case involved an illegal stop.  In general, officers are permitted  to inquire about what a person is doing, where they are coming from, etc.  However, the officer in this case ordered Streiff to stop and to turn over his identification instead of simply asking general questions.  Despite the illegal stop, the court ruled that because the valid arrest warrant predated the illegal search and because there was no flagrant police misconduct, the evidence recovered is admissible.  The test the court applied was from Brown v. Illinois, a 1975 Supreme Court case that examined the time interval between the stop and the search, the presence of intervening circumstances, and the purpose and flagrancy of official misconduct.  Here, though the short time interval tilted the case towards suppressing the evidence, the intervening factor of the arrest warrant and the absence of official misconduct led to the court’s decision.

The Dissent

The two dissents, authored by Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan, point out the extremely high number of open arrest warrants in the United States.  Notably, Ferguson, Missouri features over 76% of its residents having outstanding warrants.  This is significant because, as Justice Kagan points out, the police will now have an incentive to stop people without reasonable suspicion because if an arrest warrant is discovered, then any illegal evidence will be admissible.

So Illegal Stops are Now Legal?

So does this mean that all illegal stops become legal?  No.  If the defense is able to show intentional officer misconduct, i.e. the officer is stopping a large number of people only to search for warrants, then the evidence may be suppressed under precedent from different cases.  But this case may lead to an increase in illegal stops because officers know that they are more likely than not to find an open arrest warrant in certain parts of the country.

I was Illegally Stopped

If you believe that you were illegally stopped by the police, contact us immediately.  Whether the officers discovered a valid arrest warrant or even if they found contraband, there are still ways to challenge the police action.  You need skilled criminal defense attorneys who aren’t afraid to stand up to police misconduct.  Attorney Meyer and Attorney Van Severen will do everything in their power to ensure your rights are upheld.