Should courts suppress evidence obtained from a suspect after a police officer executes a valid arrest warrant, if the officer first illegally detained the suspect?
In 2006, an anonymous tip led Utah police officer Douglas Fackrell to investigate suspected drug activity at a house. After observing respondent Edward Strieff leave the house, Fackrell illegally detained him. During the stop, Fackrell learned Strieff had an outstanding arrest warrant. Fackrell arrested and searched Strieff, and found drugs and paraphernalia. In Strieff, the Supreme Court will decide whether evidence obtained incident to an illegal search should be admitted under the attenuation exception to the exclusionary rule. Generally, the exclusionary rule permits defendants to suppress evidence that has been obtained in violation of the Constitution. The attenuation exception, however, provides that evidence may be admissible if intervening circumstances have sufficiently weakened the taint of the original violation. Utah argues that the exclusionary rule only applies when it will deter future police misconduct. The state maintains that Fackrell did not flagrantly violate Strieff’s constitutional rights, and had a duty to arrest Strieff after discovering the arrest warrant. Accordingly, the rule would not deter misconduct. But Strieff contends the attenuation exception does not apply, because Fackrell could have foreseen that stopping Strieff illegally could have led to the discovery of a warrant. Strieff concludes that attenuation only applies when the “intervening event” that weakens the taint of Fackrell’s violation is unforeseeable. The Court’s decision could affect how police handle outstanding arrest warrants, and how judges balance Fourth Amendment protections with the need to admit relevant evidence.
Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties
Should evidence seized incident to a lawful arrest on an outstanding warrant be suppressed because the warrant was discovered during an investigatory stop later found to be unlawful?
In December 2006, an anonymous tipster reported drug activity at a Utah residence. See State v. Strieff, 2015 UT 2, 3 (2015). In response to the tip, police officer Douglas Fackrell conducted “intermittent surveillance” of the residence. See id. He noticed “short term traffic” that was frequent enough to raise suspicion. See id.(internal quotation omitted). Fackrell concluded that traffic at the house was drug related, given its frequency and Fackrell’s observation that visitors would often leave within a couple of minutes of arriving . See id.
The parties disagree about two primary issues: First, how the attenuation exception applies to this case; and second, what role pre-existing warrants play in justifying application of the attenuation exception.
The Court will consider whether courts should suppress evidence obtained from a person whom was unlawfully stopped but later found to have an outstanding warrant. SeeBrief for Petitioner,State of Utahat10. The answer may affect how police approach detentions, and how courts balance admissible evidence and individual protections under the Fourth Amendment. See Brief of Amicus Curiae Criminal Justice Legal Foundation(hereinafter “CJLF”), in Support of Petitioner at 26–29, 22; Brief of Amicus Curiae American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers(hereinafter “ACLU”), in Support of Respondent at 4, 10–11, 16.
The Court will decide whether the attenuation exception’s scope spans far enough to reach a pre-existing warrant scenario. SeeBrief for Petitioner at 10, 32; Brief for Respondentat 22, 31–32. The decision may affect how police check for outstanding arrest warrants and how judges balance Fourth Amendment protections with admitting relevant evidence. See Brief of Amicus Curiae of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, in Support of Petitioner at 26–29, 22; Brief of Amicus Curiae of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, in Support of Respondent at 4, 10–11, 16.
Ben Winslow, U.S. Supreme Court Will Hear Utah Case Involving Drug Search, Fox 13 (Oct. 1, 2015).