excerpted from: Chanae L. Wood, Black and Poor: The Grave Consequences of Utah V. Strieff, 30 Saint Thomas Law Review 68 (Fall, 2017) (150 Footnotes) (Full Article) (Student Paper)
Suppose a nineteen-year-old Black male, Jason, decides to watch a late night movie with friends. The group of friends meet on the corner outside of the local convenience store. However, Jason arrives early. Out of habit, he paces back and forth, as he waits for the others to arrive. Two police officers, patrolling the area for drug activity, notice Jason and find his pacing suspicious. The officers approach Jason and proceed to unlawfully stop him. The officers ask him where he is headed and why he is out so late. Jason tells them that he is going to the movies. The officers ask for Jason's identification, and he cooperates with them. However, after running his information through their database, the officers learn that Jason has an outstanding arrest warrant for an unpaid traffic ticket. The officers arrest Jason and proceed to lawfully search him. In doing so, they discover two grams of marijuana. The State, eventually, charges Jason with unlawful possession of marijuana. Jason seeks to suppress the evidence, claiming that the officers illegally stopped him. However, is Jason's arrest warrant for an unpaid traffic violation a sufficient event that purges "the taint of the illegal stop?"
Previously, appellate courts were led to different conclusions on whether the marijuana would be admissible as evidence, resulting in a circuit split. The United States Supreme Court addressed this dispute among lower courts, giving a resounding answer in its recent decision, Utah v. Strieff, deciding that an arrest warrant is an attenuating circumstance. As such, the forbidden "fruit of the poisonous tree" now has the Court's stamp of approval.
Strieff establishes that Jason and others who are similarly situated are no longer shielded from unlawful searches by the exclusionary rule. Thus, the proposition that the exclusionary rule serves as a remedy for Fourth Amendment violations has been weakened. This has been achieved by the Supreme Court's continued creation of exceptions and rulings that undermine the exclusionary rule's purpose. Accordingly, Strieff serves to chip away at Fourth Amendment rights yet again. While this ruling applies to all U.S citizens, the law will most likely have a disparate impact on Blacks and lower socioeconomic citizens in particular.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor's dissent in Strieff sheds light on the disparities that exist within these minority communities, and the effect the law will have on these citizens. Yet, Justice Sotomayor leaves one question unanswered. What should an officer do once he or she discovers that the questioned individual has an outstanding arrest warrant?
This Comment brings reconciliation between the majority and minority opinions in Strieff by proposing a solution that will uphold Fourth Amendment rights and public safety.
Part II explores the Fourth Amendment by tracing the origins of the exclusionary rule, and then discusses the Court's first step in undermining constitutional rights in Terry v. Ohio.
Part III discusses the Court's trend of weakening Fourth Amendment rights and provides an in-depth analysis of the impact its most recent Fourth Amendment ruling, Strieff, will have on Blacks and lower socioeconomic citizens. Part IV provides a comprehensive solution, suggesting a warrant hierarchy system that will alleviate the disparate impact that Strieff will cause.
Part V concludes by explaining that the Court has weakened the exclusionary rule, and should adopt the warrant hierarchy system in order to curb the grave effects of Strieff.