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Supreme Court ruling challenges Fourth Amendment protections

A recent 5-3 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court has caused considerable concern by those who believe it jeopardizes people's Fourth Amendment rights by allowing police to stop and search them and seize evidence simply based on the fact that they have an outstanding arrest warrant. That evidence, according to the ruling, can be used against the person even if it has nothing to do with the outstanding warrant.

In a scathing dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayer, said that the ruling would disproportionately affect minorities. She wrote that it's "no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny." She went on to assert that the ruling "says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights."

Sotomayor, who was joined by the two other female justices on the court in her dissent, noted that there are currently 7.8 million outstanding warrants and "the vast majority...appear to be for minor offenses." That leaves a lot of people open to what she considers illegal stops, searches and seizures.

The case that was before the court involves an arrest made by a Utah police officer during surveillance of a home where alleged narcotics activity had been reported. The officer stopped a man as he was leaving the house.

When he ran a check on the man, he found a warrant related to a minor traffic violation. He then arrested the man and, upon searching him, discovered a bag with methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.

Since the stop was later determined by the state to have been unlawful because there weren't sufficient grounds for it, the man's attorneys argued that the items found in the search couldn't be used as evidence against him. The state argued that they could because the man had an outstanding arrest warrant.

In writing the majority opinion, however, Justice Clarence Thomas noted that the officer "was at most negligent." However, he said that "there is no evidence that [the officer's] illegal stop reflected flagrantly unlawful police misconduct."

Cases like this demonstrate why no one should go up against the legal system alone. The rules are always changing and, sadly, not all officers follow the rules that are in place. It's essential to ensure that you have a legal professional working to protect your rights.

Source: New York Times, "Supreme Court Says Police May Use Evidence Found After Illegal Stops," Adam Liptak, June 20, 2016

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