In a decision that has shocked many in the legal community across the country, The United States Supreme Court made a controversial ruling on June 26th stating that evidence found by police officers after illegal stops may be used in court if the officers conducted their searches after learning that the defendants had outstanding arrest warrants.
Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority in the 5-to-3 decision stated that such searches do not violate the Fourth Amendment when the warrant is valid and unconnected to the conduct prompted by the stop. While Thomas is no stranger to controversy, this decision may have a profound effect on the state of Michigan and the criminal law landscape.
The case, Utah v. Strieff came about from government surveillance of a home in South Salt Lake based on an anonymous tip of “narcotics activity” there. Officer Douglas Fackrell stopped the defendant after he left the house based on what the state later conceded were insufficient grounds making the stop unlawful (Utah v. Strieff, No. 14-1373). The officer ran a check and found out that the defendant had a warrant for a minor traffic violation and during a search incident to an arrest, the officer found a baggie containing methamphetamines and drug paraphernalia.
Scott Grabel, a noted leader in criminal defense in the state of Michigan has often utilized the Exclusionary Rule to protect the rights of his clients and studied this case in great detail. Grabel was quoted as saying, “The United States Supreme Court just provided a major expansion of the Harmless Error doctrine and the Good Faith Exception to the Exclusionary Rule. The average citizen will now have to be faced with the realization that their constitutional protections have just been lessened. Criminal defense lawyers are going to have to fight harder than ever for freedom of their client. The lawyer that falls asleep at the wheel will cause innocent defendants’ a substantial loss of their personal liberties”. While Grabel’s words send a strong message, he wasn’t the only legal authority frustrated by the decision.
Ravi Gurumurthy, a top criminal defense attorney out of Cadillac, Michigan also expressed his displeasure. When asked, Gurumurthy said, “The 4th Amendment is arguably the most valuable amendment from a criminal perspective within the United States Constitution. With the decision rendered on Monday, the Supreme Court is going to force the states to magnify the power of the 10th Amendment to combat constitutional protections. In essence, the individual with a minor warrant could lose everything for an unrelated offense. As attorneys’, we better step up to the plate and evolve with the times or else the prison system is going to become even more crowded.”
In a scathing dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayer stated, “It is no secret that people of color are disproportioned victims of this type of scrutiny. This case tells everyone, while and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of democracy but subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”
Peter Samouris, a leader in criminal defense in the Lansing, Michigan area was quoted as saying, “Although I disagree with Justice Sotomayer’s conclusion in her dissent, that police powers had been ‘vastly expanded’ by the majority’s opinion, the decision does, however, make the exclusionary rule a bit weaker. In this case, it made some otherwise inadmissible ‘collateral fruit’ from the proverbial ‘poisonous tree’, admissible as evidence, and that should concern us all.”
While criminal defendants’ may suffer the consequences of this decision, state interpretation will be crucial for those accused in the state of Michigan. Leaders such as Grabel, Gurumurthy, Samouris and the legal minds with their level of expertise will have to blaze a trail for criminal defense as the law continues to evolve in favor of diminishing returns of constitutional protection.
For insight into this decision and for legal issues alike, the parties mentioned in his article can be reached at: Scott Grabel at https://www.grabellaw.com/, Ravi Gurumurthy at: http://michiganlawnorth.com/, Peter Samouris at: www.samourislaw.com.
Bill Amadeo is a partner at the law firm McManus PLLC in Ann Arbor, Michigan and works as an Associate Attorney for Grabel and Associates in Lansing, Michigan. In addition to his legal duties, Bill owes and operates BAT Tutoring with his business partner Ashley Johnson and works as a journalist for “We Love Ann Arbor”. Bill can be reached at: WilliamAmadeo@grabellaw.com.