A recent Supreme Court ruling just gave the police a free pass to stop and bother anyone they think might be engaging in criminal activity, without any justification. It will now be perfectly legal for the police to pull you over, or stop you on the street, and ask for identification (or any other intrusive questions). Anything they find can be held against you, after gathering their information. This is particularly true, if it turns out you have an outstanding warrant for something as simple as a traffic violation.
Don’t believe me? Here’s Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the dissent after the 5-3 majority opinion was handed down.
“This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand identification and check it for outstanding traffic warrants-even if you are doing nothing wrong.” She continued, “If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant.”
This is extremely scary stuff folks. Especially for minorities, who get stopped more often than the rest of society. Justice Sotomayor again, “It is not secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny.”
A brief explanation of the way things was prior to this ruling should help explain the huge difference in the new vs. old interpretation.
As most of you know, in the past, the police were not able to arbitrarily decide to pull you over and target you for questioning. They needed a reason. Something as minor as a busted tail light could do the trick. But, they needed something in order for them to stop you.
If it was determined that there was no valid reason, there was something called the “exclusionary rule” which threw out evidence obtained as a result of an unreasonable search. This included stopping people on the street who were not doing anything wrong. That would be considered an “unreasonable stop.”
Now, anyone is fair game to be stopped.
The key in all this, is if you don’t have any outstanding warrants, anything the police find as a result of the stop will be excluded. It’s basically stop, confront, hope to find something and ask questions later.
The rule has become flipped on its head. In the past, police needed justification to stop you. Now they only need something to stick (making justification much easier for them). Reasons are no longer necessary.
Let’s put this in the proper context. It is estimated that in the State of California (I’m willing to bet Florida is no different, but I don’t have the numbers), 9% of the adult population has an outstanding warrant. That’s almost 1 in 10. So the police have an almost 1 in 10 chance of stopping someone and being able to arrest them if that person is found to have anything illegal or improper on them. I wonder if this is going to apply to citizens who are here illegally? Are we going to have police stopping everyone to see who’s here legally and immediately arrest those who aren’t, if they have a traffic violation warrant?
I know, I know, this doesn’t apply to you because YOU WOULD NEVER HAVE AN OUTSTANDING WARRANT.
You sure? Think again.
There are thousands of warrants issued each year for a combination of failing to pay a fine (people mail them in hoping for a 100% accuracy?), missing a court date (not to pick on the US mail, but . . .), hiring an attorney to appear on your behalf. Sometimes the attorney does not appear (things happen, trust me), bouncing a check, clerk’s error, etc... I can go on and on with dozens of reasons why an honest person can have a warrant issued in their name and many times, have no idea.
Anyone involved with the criminal justice system can attest to the overburdened and chaotic system currently in place. It’s far too easy for things to slip through the cracks and for a warrant to generate.
The next thing you know; you’re walking around town without one of the most basic rights American’s have come to expect. The right to be left alone. (I know, I made up that right. It’s not in the Constitution worded exactly that way, but the concept is there.) But, in reality, one of the things that makes us free and gives us the feeling of freedom, is the ability to walk around town and not have to worry about being harassed by the police.
Sadly, we’ve seen, not all police will use proper discretion in deciding who to confront. This is why this ruling is unfortunate.
Which brings me to my final point, which is, DO NOT LET SOMETHING AS SILLY AS A WARRANT FOR A TRAFFIC VIOLATION BE THE REASON YOU GET ARRESTED. If you think you might have a warrant for any reason, traffic ticket, traffic criminal matter, or a criminal matter, etc..., get it taken care of immediately.
We can look up a case over the phone and in many cases, get a warrant lifted in 24 hours. The consultation is FREE. Call 866-374-8355 for all Florida matters. Take advantage of that offer and don’t allow yourself to become a victim.