Supreme Court: Evidence from Unlawful Detention is Admissible

US Supreme Court decision Utah v Strieff

US Supreme Court

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court ruled that evidence obtained from a warrant arrest, as a result of an unlawful detention, can still be admissible. Make sure you read this whole article before you decide to start conducting any unlawful detentions though, or you could find yourself in a world of hurt.

Utah v Strieff Case Background:

Narcotics detective Douglas Fackrell conducted surveillance on a South Salt Lake City residence based on an anonymous tip about drug activity. The number of people he observed making brief visits to the house over the course of a week made him suspicious that the occupants were dealing drugs. After observing respondent Edward Strieff leave the residence, Officer Fackrell detained Strieff at a nearby parking lot, identifying himself and asking Strieff what he was doing at the house. He then requested Strieff’s identification and relayed the information to a police dispatcher, who informed him that Strieff had an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation. Officer Fackrell arrested Strieff, searched him, and found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. Strieff moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that it was derived from an unlawful investigatory stop.

Blue Lives Matter Summary of US Supreme Court Ruling:

The initial detention of Strieff was unlawful; that is not in contention. Some readers might think that it was a valid Terry stop, however we agree with the court that Strieff’s presence at a house where people are frequently coming and going was not sufficient for the basis of a Terry stop. Detective Fackrell could have initiated a social contact and asked Strieff for his name. Instead, Detective Fackrell detained Strieff and identified him. This detention was unlawful and a violation Strieff’s civil rights.

Once dispatch advised that Strieff had a warrant, there was a lawful reason for Detective Fackrell to detain Strieff. The legality of the stop does not invalidate any warrant. Had Detective Fackrell uncovered evidence of a crime during his initial stop of Strieff, rather than a warrant, then all of that evidence would have been inadmissible. The warrant allowed Detective Fackrell to lawfully arrest Strieff, and because the arrest was lawful, the search incident to arrest was lawful, and therefore evidence obtained was determined to be admissible.

How This Affects Officer’s Jobs:

This case should have absolutely no affect on how an officer performs their job duties. An ignorant officer could interpret this case as excusing unlawful detentions; that would be wrong. The main points here are:

  1. If you unlawfully detain somebody, any evidence of a crime will still be inadmissible unless it is obtained after a warrant arrest.
  2. If you unlawfully detain somebody to determine if they have a warrant, then you are still violating their civil rights and they can sue you personally, and you will not be protected by the law.

You would be out of your mind to risk your career and all of your possessions (which you would lose in a lawsuit) to intentionally conduct an illegal stop, just to see if somebody has a warrant. We agree with the Supreme Court’s decision and believe that this decision will not encourage unlawful behavior by officers.

You can see the full decision: HERE