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Supreme Court upends search and seizure protections: Part I

We have written numerous times about the need to vigorously protect our civil rights. This is especially important in the context of police actions. The Fourth Amendment, for instance, protects us against "unreasonable search and seizure" by law enforcement. This usually means that police cannot search our personal property (or our person) without first obtaining a search warrant.

If evidence of crime is discovered during an illegal search, it cannot be used against us in court. For better and worse, Fourth Amendment protections are regularly open to interpretation. And recently, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a ruling that almost certainly diminishes the protections of average Americans.

The case concerned a Utah man who had been convicted of drug crimes based on what the Utah Supreme Court later determined was an illegal search. A narcotics officer had been monitoring a house based on a tip that drug activity may have been occurring there. While watching the house, the officer noticed a man leaving on foot, traveling to a nearby convenience store.

The officer detained the man and asked for ID. When he ran a background check, he discovered that the suspect had an outstanding arrest warrant related to a minor traffic infraction. The officer used the arrest warrant as justification to search the man, and drugs were found during that search.

This evidence should have been thrown out because the officer had no legitimate reason to detain the suspect in the first place. Unfortunately, however, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled 5-3 that if police officers discover that a suspect has outstanding arrest warrants, they can conduct a search and any evidence obtained can be admissible in court, even if the stop itself was illegal.

This decision could have a huge and negative impact on the privacy rights of average citizens. Please check back later this week as we continue the discussion.

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