A divided Supreme Court bolstered police powers on Monday, ruling that evidence of a crime in some cases may be used against a defendant even if the police did something wrong or illegal in obtaining it, the AP reports. The 5-3 decision drew heated dissents from liberal justices who warned that the outcome would encourage police to violate people's rights. The ruling comes in a case in which a police detective illegally stopped defendant Joseph Edward Strieff on the streets of South Salt Lake City, Utah. A name check revealed an outstanding warrant. Police Detective Doug Fackrell arrested Strieff and searched him, finding methamphetamine. The case raised the question of whether the valid warrant outweighs the stop, which was illegal because Fackrell lacked any reasonable suspicion that Strieff had been violating the law.
It was the court's latest case that questions whether evidence should be thrown out of court because the police did something wrong or illegal that led to the discovery of the evidence. Justice Clarence Thomas said for the court that the officer's actions were not a flagrant violation of the law. "While Officer Fackrell's decision to initiate the stop was mistaken, his conduct thereafter was lawful," Thomas wrote. But Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in dissent that the decision is a blow to constitutional rights. "The court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer's violation of your Fourth Amendment rights," Sotomayor wrote, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Elena Kagan filed a separate dissent in which she said the ruling "creates unfortunate incentives for the police—indeed practically invites them to do what Fackrell did here."