The U.S. Supreme Court weakened the Constitution’s protections against unlawful police stops on Monday, ruling that evidence found during those interactions could be used in court if the officers also found an outstanding arrest warrant along the way.
Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for a five-justice majority in Utah v. Strieff, concluded that a Utah police officer’s “errors in judgment hardly rise to a purposeful or flagrant violation of [Edward] Strieff’s Fourth Amendment rights.”
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But in a thundering dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was less forgiving. “The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights,” she wrote, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong.”
Later, writing only for herself, Sotomayor also added that the ruling “implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”