The Supreme Court gave police more power to stop people on the streets and question them, even when it is not clear they have done anything wrong, reported the Los Angeles Times.
In a 5-3 ruling, the justices relaxed the so-called exclusionary rule and upheld the use of drug evidence found on a Utah man who was stopped illegally by a police officer in Salt Lake City.
The court, in an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, said that because the man had an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation, the illegal stop could be ignored.
“In this case, the warrant was valid, it predated [the police officer’s] investigation, and it was entirely unconnected with the stop,” Thomas wrote for the court.
The court’s three women justices strongly dissented and warned that the ruling will encourage police to randomly stop and question people because they face no penalty for violating their constitutional rights against unreasonable searches. They said racial minorities in major cities will be most affected.
Thomas, rebutting the dissenters, said the case did not involve a “flagrant violation” of the 4th Amendment. He said he doubted “police will engage in dragnet searches if the exclusionary rule is not applied. We think this outcome is unlikely.”
The Supreme Court first adopted the exclusionary rule for federal cases in 1914, but greatly expanded its reach in 1961 by applying the rule to state and local police. The rule generally requires judges to throw out evidence if a police officer or federal agent conducted an unreasonable search, including stopping a pedestrian without reasonable suspicion that the person had committed a crime.
In the last decade, the court led by Chief Justice John Roberts has relaxed the rule in cases in which officers made an innocent mistake or relied on a defective warrant.
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