The United States Supreme Court, in Utah v. Shrieff, has ruled that a valid arrest warrant is a sufficient intervening event to break the chain between an illegal stop or detention and the discovery and admissibility of evidence. This has impacted the well-established principal of law that, with some exceptions, when officers conduct an illegal stop or detention, any evidence they find should be suppressed. Here’s an example: Let’s suppose a man is simply walking down the street, and an officer sees him, and, without cause, decides to ask the man what he is doing and asks him for identification. Let’s suppose the man says, “It’s none on your business,” and continues walking. If the officer then detains that man and demands that the man stay and provide identification, that would be an illegal stop. If this man is then searched and a marijuana cigarette is found in his pocket, the man may be charged with possession of cannabis. Because the stop was illegal, the court should grant a motion to suppress or “throw out” the evidence of the marijuana cigarette because the evidence was obtained after an illegal detention. With no evidence, the prosecution will have no case and the entire case will likely be dismissed.If there is an arrest warrant, the results would be different, if the rule of law from the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion is applied.
Let’s suppose the person illegally detained has an arrest warrant that is discovered when the officer demands and checks the person’s identification. The officer then searches the person incident to arrest on the warrant. During the search incident to arrest, the marijuana cigarette is found. According to the above cited case, the arrest warrant would create an exception, an intervening event, that would allow the marijuana cigarette to be admitted into evidence, even though the evidence would never have been discovered but for the officer’s illegal activity of conducting the illegal stop.
This rule of law regarding the warrant exception is already similar to case law that has been issued in Florida. However, this does not mean that there can’t be exceptions to the exception nor does it mean the warrant exception would apply to an illegal stop and search. What if the person illegally detained was not searched due to the warrant, but rather, was searched immediately when stopped and before the officer ran the identification and discovered the warrant? What if he was detained, searched, arrested for the marijuana, placed in the patrol car, and, only after those events, the officer ran the identification and found the warrant? There is still a good argument that a warrant under those circumstances is not an “intervening event,” and the evidence should be suppressed. There are other factors that could come into play as well, such as the time frame or length or style of the stop, other behavior of the officers, or, as above, an illegal search in addition to the illegal stop. So these examples are generalities and anyone needing to know possibilities regarding a specific case or facts should definitely consult a licensed attorney in his or her state. Also, not walking around with illegal substances when one has an arrest warrant that authorizes the police to look for him and take him into custody at any time would not be a bad idea — just saying.
Justice Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion in Utah v. Shrieff disagreeing with her colleagues with regard to the majority opinion issued and stating:
“By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.
We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. See L. Guinier & G. Torres, The Miner’s Canary 274–283(2002). They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.
For the full majority opinion and full dissenting opinion, go to the Florida Supreme Court Case of Utah v. Shrieff
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