HB 392: Correcting a Bad Supreme Court Ruling
This bill was held in the House Judiciary Committee.
Edward Strieff left a suspected “drug house” in South Salt Lake in December 2006. An officer detained him, found he had an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation, searched him, and discovered drug paraphernalia and methamphetamine.
In court, prosecutors conceded that the police officers did not have reasonable suspicion of a crime justifying his initial detention, but argued that the resulting evidence should not be suppressed because the fact that they found an arrest warrant justified, in their view, the prosecution of Strieff’s possession of the contraband.
On later appeal, the Utah Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling in an opinion written by Justice Lee, arguing that the evidence was inadmissible because only “a voluntary act of a defendant’s free will (as in a confession or consent to search)” would justify the discovery of evidence once a person is illegally detained.
The U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Utah Supreme Court in a widely criticized, 5-3 split opinion that established that evidence is admissible after arrest based on a warrant, even when the initial stop was unconstitutional.
Representative Brian Greene has sponsored House Bill 392 to add additional search and seizure protections where the U.S. Supreme Court undermined them. Specifically, the bill takes the fact pattern of Strieff head on, stating that evidence is not admissible in court if the police officer:
- unlawfully stops or seizes an individual;
- discovers an outstanding warrant for the individual’s arrest during the unlawful stop or seizure;
- arrests the individual pursuant to the outstanding warrant;
- conducts a search incident to the arrest; and
- seizes property discovered during the search.
In a stinging dissent to the U.S. Supreme Court case, Justice Sotomayor clarified the precise problem with the court’s ruling:
The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong.
Officers should not unconstitutionally detain people not reasonably suspected of crime. The court’s ruling, as it stands, removes the disincentive that helps ensure this does not happen—the subsequent suppression of any evidence obtained resulting from the illegal stop. Because of the potential for abuse, HB 392 presents a compelling opportunity to close this loophole and ensure that officers are not at all incentivized to illegally stop Utahns.