Bad Stop - Shouldn't the evidence be thrown out?

Bad Stop

Is it possible for police to make a bad stop of a person, but find out later that there is an outstanding arrest warrant, to have the evidence thrown out in court? Maybe. The police have long been allowed to stop a person if they have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. IF the police have reason to believe you have committed, or are about to commit a crime, they can frisk you. That's called a Terry Stop. But they must have some reason that you have, or about to commit a crime. But can the police stop you for no reason at all, and then while checking your id and perhaps finding an outstanding warrant, arrest you and search you? Yes. According to a recent US Supreme Court case.

Why doesn't the evidence get thrown out?

Doesn't that first illegal stop allow my lawyer to file a Motion to Suppress to have all the later evidence thrown out ?

Probably not. But like all things legal, it depends on the Facts. This week, the United States Supreme Court ruled on a case out of Utah called Utah v. Strieff. In that case, the police were conducting surveillance on a "suspected" drug house. When Strieff exited the house, an officer stopped him and asked for his identification. When the officer checked Strieff's ID, he learned there was an active warrant out for his arrest. For a traffic violation. After arresting Strieff, the officer searched him and found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. Before trial, Strieff's criminal lawyer filed a Motion to Suppress the evidence found on Strieff. The police searched him, AFTER he was arrested. Searches incident to arrest are usually legal. But in this case, the initial stop was bad, so the criminal defense attorney argued that all the evidence found should be thrown out. But the US Supreme Court, which appears to take more and more away from our Fourth Amendment rights each year, says No. Even though the initial stop and detaining of Streiff may have been unconstitutional, the outstanding warrant caused a break in the chain of events, and allowed to officer to legally arrest Streiff. Because the cop searched Streiff after the lawful arrest on the warrant - the evidence comes in. According to the Court, there are exceptions to "bad stops." One of those exceptions is called inevitable discovery. Meaning that the police could have lawfully discovered the evidence even without the bad stop. Another exception to a bad stop is when the police find the evidence through an independent source. It's similar to inevitable discovery. But in this case, the exception to the bad stop is known as the "attentuation doctrine" That means that in between the bad stop and the discovery of unlawful activity or contraband, there was some additional event which created a break. The following is a quote of the Streiff case showing the Court's reasoning:
"The first, “temporal proximity” between the initially unlawful stop and the search, id., at 603, favors suppressing the evidence. Officer Fackrell discovered drug contraband on Strieff only minutes after the illegal stop. In contrast, the second factor, “the presence of intervening circumstances, id., at 603–604, strongly favors the State. The existence of a valid warrant, predating the investigation and entirely unconnected with the stop, favors finding sufficient attenuation between the unlawful conduct and the discovery of evidence. That warrant authorized Officer Fackrell to arrest Strieff, and once the arrest was authorized, his search of Strieff incident to that arrest was undisputedly lawful. The third factor, “the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct,” id., at 604, also strongly favors the State. Officer Fackrell was at most negligent, but his errors in judgment hardly rise to a purposeful or flagrant violation of Strieff’s Fourth Amendment rights. After the unlawful stop, his conduct was lawful, and there is no indication that the stop was part of any systemic or recurrent police misconduct"
So even though the stop of Streiff was bad, the rest of the police encounter was lawful. Therefore, the evidence comes in. Bad stops are common, and it is unfortunate that the Courts give more power to the police than the people. If you think you are a victim of a bad stop - call us. Bad Stops and warrantless searches are our favorite area of law. The Criminal Defense Lawyers at Pawuk & Pawuk win Motions to Suppress evidence all the time. We love arguing these types of cases. We offer a free consultation on all criminal cases. Call us.