The Fourth Amendment is Dead after New Supreme Court Ruling

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The front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Completed in 1935, the US Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, is the first to have been built specifically for the purpose, inspiring Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes to remark, ÒThe Republic endures and this is the symbol of its faith.Ó The Court was established in 1789 and initially met in New York City. When the national capital moved to Philadelphia, the Court moved with it, before moving to the permanent capital of Washington, DC, in 1800. Congress lent the Court space in the new Capitol building, and it was to change its meeting place several more times over the next century, even convening for a short period in a private house after the British set fire to the Capitol during the War of 1812. The classical Corinthian architectural style was chosen to harmonize with nearby congressional buildings, and the scale of the massive marble building reflects the significance and dignity of the judiciary as a co-equal, independent branch of government. The main entrance is on the west side, facing the Capitol. On either side of the main steps are figures sculpted by James Earle Fraser. On the left is the female Contemplation of Justice. On the right is the male Guardian or Authority of Law. On the architrave above the pediment is the motto ÒEqual Justice under Law.Ó Capping the entrance is a group representing Liberty Enthroned, guarded by Order and Authority, sculpted by Robert Aitken. At the east entrance are marble figures sculpted by Hermon A. MacNeil. They represent great law givers Moses, Confucius, and Solon, flanked by Means of Enforcing the Law, Tempering Justice with Mercy, Settlement of Disputes between States, and Maritime and other functions of the Supreme Court. The architrave carries the motto ÒJustice the Guardian of Liberty.Ó The interior of the building is equally filled with symbolic ornamentation. The main corridor is known as the Great Hall and contains double rows of marble columns
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All of us are familiar with the term, Fruit of the Poisonous Tree. It is a legal term, born of the Exclusionary Rule, which prevents the use of illegally obtained evidence from being used against a defendant at trial. It is the backbone of the fourth amendment. It is what has prevented police from fabricating traffic stops, stop and frisk encounters and using evidence they are not entitled to, under law. Well, liberty took a nose dive this week when the U.S. Supreme Court examined the Utah case of Joseph Strieff. A case that calls into question our fourth amendment protections when dealing with cops on the street.

Strieff, was illegally detained and searched. However, during the illegal detention, a valid arrest warrant was found. Having already been illegally detained, a search uncovered drugs inside his vehicle. The courts played hot potato with this one, as different decisions flopped around the Utah court circuit. Initially, it was found that the valid search warrant justified the illegal search. The reasoning was unclear, but the court must have been using an “inevitable discovery” mentality when coming to that conclusion. An appeals court overturned the decision and the conviction against Strieff was thrown out. This case then made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices’ voted 5-3 to reinstate the conviction against Strieff.

One argument for the reinstatement was a concept called the Attenuation Exception to the Exclusionary Rule. This Attenuation Exception, which is nothing new and extraordinarily vague, states that evidence obtained illegally can be used if the “connection between the misconduct and the discovery of the evidence is sufficiently weak.”

While this Attenuation Exception is somewhat obscure and vague, it has been used to submit unlawfully obtained evidence for decades. In a nutshell, if the officer can articulate a “good faith” argument for your illegal search or detention, even if wrong, the evidence obtained can be used against you.

The Supreme Court did have three dissenting Justices. Justices Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Elena Kagan all cast dissenting votes, recognizing this travesty of justice for what it is. The dissenting opinion was sharp and dug deep into the heart of the issue at hand; the erosion of the fourth amendment.

“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,” Sotomayor proclaimed.

“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.” added Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

This ruling is another in a seemingly endless line cases that seek only to erode our freedoms and give more power to an already out of control police state.

Sources: Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, The Free Thought Project.


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4 COMMENTS

  1. Disgusting that the so-called liberal justice, Stephen Breyer, voted with the majority. What could have possessed him? Maybe he was channeling the spirit of Antonin Scalia.

  2. This is not so cut and dry. The person was leaving a known drug house. I would think that could raise probable cause. Regardless. A criminal was apprehended and taken off the street. That in the end is a good thing.

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