By: Chanae Wood, J.D. Candidate, May 2018, St. Thomas University School of Law.

Abstract

The Supreme Court’s decision in Utah v. Strieff proves to chip away at Fourth Amendment rights, yet again. In Strieff, the Unites States Supreme Court ruled that an arrest warrant is an attenuating circumstance that will purge an illegal stop. This ruling incentivizes police misconduct and undermines Fourth Amendment rights by providing for means to avoid the exclusionary rule. However, Strieff is not the first time the Court has undermined constitutional rights. Terry v. Ohio, introducing the reasonable suspicion standard, was arguably the Court’s first step in undermining the Fourth Amendment. Unsurprisingly, Strieff is another step in the wrong direction and should not be underestimated.

Strieff will affect the liberties of millions of every day civilians; however, a disproportionate number of those impacted will be Blacks and lower socioeconomic citizens. Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion in Strieff sheds light on the disparities that exist within these minority communities and the disparate impact the law will have on these citizens. Studies have shown that Blacks are arrested at a higher rate for driving with suspended licenses for unpaid traffic tickets. Furthermore, poverty stricken individuals in these communities are usually unable to pay traffic fines. As a result, a vast majority of the 7.8 million arrest warrants across the nation are for low-level offenses. In order to deter police conduct, a warrant hierarchy system should be implemented.  Warrants for misdemeanor crimes should not result in an officer’s immediate ability to search or arrest. The warrant hierarchy system will balance both public safety concerns and protect those targeted by officers. As Strieff stands, it corrodes civil liberties, making it clear that Fourth Amendment rights come second to law enforcement discretion.