Thank goodness SCOTUS has finally unshackled the Village police

Posted: 07/01/2016 in Screwed

Clarence Thomas, long thought to be the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s meat puppet, finally spoke out on his own last week.  It was not a pretty picture.  The facts of Utah v. Strieff  were pretty simple.

Working from an anonymous tip about drug dealing, a police detective staked out a house and then randomly detained a man named Edward Strieff as he was leaving. He had no probable cause to do this, but he did it anyway. Then he demanded Strieff’s ID, ran a background check, and discovered that Strieff had an outstanding warrant for a traffic violation. Bingo. That was enough to arrest him and conduct a search, which turned up some meth. There’s no argument about whether the stop was valid. It wasn’t. It was plainly unlawful, and the officer who made the stop certainly knew that.

But SCOTUS decided that, in this new America, two wrongs make a right.  Or as Justice Thomas said:

Officer Fackrell was at most negligent…. two good-faith mistakes…. lacked a sufficient basis to conclude that Strieff was a short-term visitor…. should have asked Strieff whether he would speak with him, instead of demanding that Strieff do so…. his conduct thereafter was lawful…. the warrant check was a “negligibly burdensome precautio[n]”…. search of Strieff was a lawful search incident to arrest…. no indication that this unlawful stop was part of any systemic or recurrent police misconduct.

….Strieff argues that, because of the prevalence of outstanding arrest warrants in many jurisdictions, police will engage in dragnet searches if the exclusionary rule is not applied. We think that this outcome is unlikely. Such wanton conduct would expose police to civil liability.

In other words, Thomas doesn’t believe that Fackrell knew he was acting unlawfully.  Therefore, there’s no reason to believe that such innocent mistakes will happen often enough to be a problem. Plus the mere threat of civil liability is enough to deter police from illegal conduct.  Besides, everything following the illegal conduct was standard procedure, so it was mostly legal, wasn’t it? 

Yep.  That’s our Supreme Court.  Brightest minds in the business.


Be seeing you.


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