Supreme Court Ruling: Police Can Use Illegally Obtained Evidence, Sotomayor Slams Decision

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 in favor of a ruling which will allow police officers to use illegally obtained evidence against defendants in court.

The decision was roundly criticized by Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her dissent as endangering the Fourth amendment rights of American citizens.

The ruling was a result of the Utah v. Streiff case which, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, dates back to the 2006 search and arrest by the South Salt Lake Police Department of Edward Joseph Streiff, Jr. who was found in possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia during an illegal stop.

The search of Streiff's person occurred after officers had stopped him after he left a home under surveillance. Upon running Streiff's ID, the officers learned that he had a minor traffic warrant. While the court upheld that the stop was illegal, the court upheld that the evidence was admissible due to the warrant.

"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, joined by Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, said in her dissenting response.

"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. If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant."

While Streiff is white, Sotomayor's dissent made explicit reference to the potential damage that the ruling posits for communities of color, long targeted by other unconstitutional policing methods like stop and frisk.

"It is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny," Sotomayor wrote. "For generations, black and brown parents have given their children 'the talk' -- instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger -- all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them."

A woman and her children walk past anti-stop and frisk graffiti in New York City. [Photo by Bebeto Matthews]
A woman and her children walk past anti-stop and frisk graffiti in New York City. [Photo by Bebeto Matthews/AP Images]The legal principles involved include both the exclusionary law, which holds that evidence gathered in violation of a defendant's civil liberties may be inadmissible in court, and the Terry stop, the premise for stop and frisk, which is a brief detention of a person by reasonable suspicion of the police.

The Washington Post notes that no defendant has won a Supreme Court case under the exclusionary rule since 1990.

In a video by CNN, the network's legal analyst, Danny Cevallos, described the wide range of conditions under which police can engage in a Terry stop, which remains a controversial practice of police departments since a 1968 Supreme Court ruling in Terry v. Ohio.

In 2013, US District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled the policy of stop and frisk to be unconstitutional and ordered the NYPD to cease engaging in it.

Long credited with helping to reduce New York City's gun crime, the practice resulted in up to 5 million stop and frisk reports between 1993 and 2013. However, the practice has not been without its critics as civil rights groups have pointed out the racial disparities in stops initiated by the NYPD.

The effect on the New York crime rate is also controversial. While city government and police officials have praised the "broken windows" strategy of stop and frisk as an integral part of New York City's falling crime rate, researchers and civil rights groups have noted that crime fell in other major U.S. cities during the same time at nearly the same rate.

[Photo by Susan Walsh/AP Images]