Unawareness of the law does not excuse a violation of someone’s constitutional rights.
Violation of the 4th Amendment does not result in suppression of evidence if a police officer makes a “reasonable” mistake about the law. Being unaware of the law is not a reasonable mistake.
SCOTUS Fails to Protect Constitutional Rights
A frightening new opinion by the United States Supreme Court in an 8-1 decision held that police officers are permitted to violate an American citizen’s 4th 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 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.” In other words, she expressed concern that decisions such as this will further erode our constitutional rights and result in additional, permitted 4th Amendment violations of rights.
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 the green light to violate the law routinely.” His concern can be described as a slippery slope. He further states, “this ruling is what I would call a one-way, nonrefundable ticket to the police state.”
Fighting To Protect Clients from 4th Amendment Violations of Rights
As you can see from this Blog and the Supreme Court’s decision in this case, criminal law and constitutional law can change dramatically and quickly, and not necessarily for the better. The Michigan criminal attorneys with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. take great pride in being among Michigan’s most respected, highest-rated defense lawyers. Our team of highly skilled and respected attorneys has been successfully defending clients on felony and misdemeanor charges in Michigan for decades. Our firm has a reputation for providing passionate, experienced, and effective representation in state and federal court. We like nothing more than fighting for our clients and making sure that the government is held accountable to the law. LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. will make sure that you are given the best legal representation available, and we will treat you like we would want a member of our own family to be treated.
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