The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that evidence found by police officers after illegal stops may be used in court if the officers conducted their searches after learning that the defendants had outstanding arrest warrants, reports the New York Times.
Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority in the 5-to-3 decision, said such searches do not violate the Fourth Amendment when the warrant is valid and unconnected to the conduct that prompted the stop.
Justice Thomas's opinion drew a fiery dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who said that "it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny."
The case, Utah v. Strieff, No. 14-1373, arose from police surveillance of a house in South Salt Lake based on an anonymous tip of "narcotics activity" there. A police officer, Douglas Fackrell, stopped Edward Strieff after he had left the house based on what the state later conceded were insufficient grounds, making the stop unlawful.
Officer Fackrell then ran a check and discovered a warrant for a minor traffic violation. He arrested Mr. Strieff, searched him and found a baggie containing methamphetamines and drug paraphernalia. The question for the justices was whether the drugs must be suppressed given the unlawful stop or whether they could be used as evidence given the arrest warrant.
"Officer Fackrell was at most negligent," Justice Thomas wrote, adding that "there is no evidence that Officer Fackrell's illegal stop reflected flagrantly unlawful police misconduct."