Violation of the 4th Amendment is Permitted if a Police Officer Makes a “Reasonable” Mistake About the Law
In a frightening new opinion by the United States Supreme Court in a 8-1 decision held that police officers are permitted to violate American’s citizens Fourth Amendment rights if the violation results from a “reasonable” mistake on the part of the police.
In Heien v North Carolina a police officer stopped Mr. Heien for driving with when one brake light failed and then flickered on. The police officer believed that state law required a car to have both brake lights working. The law only required one working brake light. During the stop the police officer got consent to search Heien’s car and found drugs. The trial court denied a motion to suppress the drugs, the state Court of Appeals determined that the officer was mistaken so the stop was invalid. The North Carolina Supreme Court concluded that the mistake was “reasonable” so the stop did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Ultimately the United States Supreme Court agreed.
Dissenting Opinion and Commentary
Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the lone dissenter. She warned that the court’s holding, “means further eroding of the Fourth Amendment’s protection of civil liberties in a context where that protection has already been worn down.”
John W. Whitehead of The Rutherford Institute, stated, “[b]y refusing to hold police accountable to knowing and abiding by the rule of law, the Supreme Court has given government officials a green light to routinely violate the law.” His concern can be described as a slippery slope. He further states, “[t]his ruling is what I would call a one-way, nonrefundable ticket to the police state.”
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