While we all think we know our Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure, there is one recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that may give more power to the police, and all they have to say is they didn't know the law.
This blog post will discuss a recent Supreme Court decision that seem to make it possible for police to make a traffic stop and search your car, often based on very flimsy excuses.
A case of guilt by association
In a recent case that generally remained under the media radar, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that evidence gathered in an illegal search of property may not be excluded from trial if the police claim they did not know the law regarding search and seizure.
The case involved a traffic stop of a driver who had left a party at the home of a suspected drug dealer under surveillance. Although the police had no reason to suspect the driver of criminal wrongdoing, they pulled him over a few blocks from the house and searched his car. They seized a few ounces of drugs and arrested the man on felony possession of a controlled substance.
The man's criminal defense lawyer argued that the car had been searched without a warrant or even probable cause of a criminal offense; meaning the police had illegally seized evidence in violation of the Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure. In response, the police maintained that they were operating under the "belief" that they were following legal procedures, based on the ongoing investigation of the party house.
The driver was found guilty of the charges and his lawyer appealed through the state and then federal court system, all the way to the Supreme Court. The justices ruled that, in this specific case, the police were acting with best intentions and under the belief that they were, in fact, within the law to search the vehicle based on a probable connection to the homeowner under investigation.
Ingnorance of the law trumps Constitutional rights
In effect, the ruling says that police, acting on the pretense that they were ignorant of the law, are now free to pull over a vehicle for any reason they claim. Any search or seizure of the property will fall under a suspected connection to a possible crime. All they need say is that they were unaware that the law prevented them from doing so, and the evidence may stand in court.
The Supreme Court ruling has already had an impact. There have been convictions based on evidence illegally seized after traffic stops for broken tail lights, driving through yellow lights or driving one or two miles over the speed limit. Once the police have the car pulled over for a moving violation, they search the vehicle knowing they can simply say they thought they were acting within the constructs of the law. And now, they have Supreme Court approval.
Hire a criminal defense lawyer who understands the law
If you have been charged with a drug offense in the Boston metropolitan area and think your Constitutional rights may have been violated, make sure your Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer has an in-depth knowledge of the law. Call Dhar Law LLP in Charlestown right away.
Next post, we will discuss more specifics of this important case, as the legal world watches to see how this ruling affects our rights regarding probable cause for making a traffic stop, as well as our constitutional protection against illegal search and seizure.