News / USA

    Without Scalia, Supreme Court Divided on Key Police Powers Case

    FILE - Cook County Sheriff police officers in Chicago, Illinois search a vehicle and a woman at street stop in the city's Austin neighborhood, September 9, 2015.
    FILE - Cook County Sheriff police officers in Chicago, Illinois search a vehicle and a woman at street stop in the city's Austin neighborhood, September 9, 2015.

    On its first day back at work since Justice Antonin Scalia's unexpected death, the U.S. Supreme Court plunged into a case that could profoundly influence police behavior and alter the increasingly tense relationship between law enforcement and the public in high-crime urban areas.

    The eight remaining justices appeared divided along familiar ideological lines, raising the specter of what some predict could be a number of 4-4 votes without Scalia.

    At issue in this case, Utah v. Strieff, is whether courts can admit evidence obtained in a police search based on an earlier arrest warrant that is discovered only after a suspect is detained without probable cause.

    The justices heard an appeal filed by Utah officials of a ruling by the state's top court in favor of Edward Strieff, who was convicted in 2006 of methamphetamine possession and a related drug charge after his vehicle was stopped by police in Salt Lake City.

    The state Supreme Court ruled that Strieff's rights under the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment were violated because although there was a warrant issued for his arrest at the time of the search — for a minor traffic violation — the police officer did not know that when he stopped Strieff's vehicle.

    FILE - Protesters gather during a demonstration in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 11, 2015. Justice Sonia Sotomayor linked the Utah v. Strieff case to heavy-handed police tactics in minority communities like Ferguson.
    FILE - Protesters gather during a demonstration in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 11, 2015. Justice Sonia Sotomayor linked the Utah v. Strieff case to heavy-handed police tactics in minority communities like Ferguson.

    That concerned Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who linked the Strieff case to heavy-handed police tactics in minority communities like Ferguson, Missouri — the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed in August 2014 by a white police officer during a street confrontation.

    The shooting prompted protests that shook the area for weeks.

    "If you have a town like Ferguson, where 80 percent of the residents have [minor] traffic warrants out, there may be a very good incentive for just standing on the street corner and asking every citizen, give me your ID," Sotomayor said.

    "What stops us from becoming a police state?" she asked Utah Solicitor General Tyler Green, who conceded that Strieff's Fourth Amendment protections were violated.

    Acting in good faith

    Joan Watt, representing Strieff, argued that the arresting officer lacked reasonable cause to stop him, because the officer only saw him coming out of a house under surveillance for drug activity, but did not see him enter or do anything illegal.

    But John Bash, assistant to the solicitor general of the U.S. Department of Justice, countered that any taint on the evidence secured via the illegal stop was diminished because the arrest was not a flagrant violation of the Fourth Amendment and falls under a commonly cited exception to its protections.

    Bash said the arresting officer, Detective Douglas Fackrell, acted in good faith and had reasonable cause to stop Strieff based on what he observed going on at the house.

    Fackrell "saw short-term traffic that was consistent in his experience and expertise with drug activity. And then someone walked out of the house ... I mean, this wasn't a pizza deliveryman," Bash said.

    Thirty other states — including Michigan, Oregon, Kansas, Florida and Hawaii — agreed.

    They filed an Amicus Brief in support of Utah, arguing that suppressing evidence found in such circumstances would neuter the power of legal arrest warrants and frustrate police officers' ability to perform their duties.

    Kagan counters

    But Justice Elena Kagan countered that creating a new standard for Fourth Amendment protections would change police incentives dramatically in communities where large numbers of people have arrest warrants.

    "In these very heavily policed areas — I mean, I was staggered by the number of arrest warrants that are out on people," Kagan said.

    "So it's a significant possibility that you're going to find an arrest warrant and be able to admit whatever drugs or guns or whatever it is you find," she said.

    Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito appeared unmoved, arguing that law enforcement officers have many reasons to run warrant checks, including fears for their personal safety after traffic stops.

    Watt was undeterred.

    "Utah's rule would have an overwhelming impact that would create a powerful incentive for police officers to walk up to people on the street and simply stop them," she answered.

    The court is expected to issue a decision on the case before the end of its term in June.


    Mark Snowiss

    Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

    You May Like

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: meanbill from: USA
    February 22, 2016 11:05 PM
    Remember? .. Supreme Court Justices Sotomayor and Kagan both were selected to be Supreme Court Justices by Obama under his own (history recorded) personal criterion, (that they have empathy for young teenage moms, the poor, African-Americans, or gays, or disabled, or old, in making their judicial decisions), and nobody should be surprised now, when all their judicial decisions are predicated on the premise made to Obama, even though their promise to Obama contradicts their Supreme Court Justice Oath?

    [Judicial Oath of Supreme Court Justices] .. "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent on me as under the constitution and laws of the United States." _ So help me God."

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora