Justice Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion in Utah v Strieff

The Right, and sometimes the Left, get myopic and target lock on the Second Amendment.  There are 9 others in the Bill of Rights.  This last week, the protections of one of those amendments was severely diluted.  Sonia Sotomayor wrote such an impassioned and easily understandable dissent.  I thought it important to relay parts of it here.  I’ve moved the legal citations for easier reading.

The case is the State of Utah v Strieff, Jr (No. 14-1373), argued February 22, 2016, decided June 20, 2016
From Justice Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion.
“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. Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong. 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. Because the Fourth Amendment should prohibit, not permit, such misconduct.”

 

.. unlawful “stops” have severe consequences much greater than the inconvenience suggested by the name. This Court has given officers an array of instruments to probe and examine you. When we condone officers’ use of these devices without adequate cause, we give them reason to target pedestrians in an arbitrary manner. We also risk treating members of our communities as second-class citizens.

Although many Americans have been stopped for speeding or jaywalking, few may realize how degrading a stop can be when the officer is looking for more. This Court has allowed an officer to stop you for whatever reason he wants—so long as he can point to a pretextual justification after the fact. That justification must provide specific reasons why the officer suspected you were breaking the law, but it may factor in your ethnicity, where you live, what you were wearing, and how you behaved. The officer does not even need to know which law you might have broken so long as he can later point to any possible infraction—even one that is minor, unrelated, or ambiguous.

The indignity of the stop is not limited to an officer telling you that you look like a criminal. The officer may next ask for your “consent” to inspect your bag or purse without telling you that you can decline. Regardless of your answer, he may order you to stand “helpless, perhaps facing a wall with [your] hands raised.” If the officer thinks you might be dangerous, he may then “frisk” you for weapons. This involves more than just a pat down. As onlookers pass by, the officer may “‘feel with sensitive fingers every portion of [your] body. A thorough search [may] be made of [your] arms and armpits, waistline and back, the groin and area about the testicles, and entire surface of the legs down to the feet.’”

The officer’s control over you does not end with the stop. If the officer chooses, he may handcuff you and take you to jail for doing nothing more than speeding, jaywalking, or “driving [your] pickup truck . . . with [your] 3-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter . . . without [your] seatbelt fastened.”  At the jail, he can fingerprint you, swab DNA from the inside of your mouth, and force you to “shower with a delousing agent” while you “lift [your] tongue, hold out [your] arms, turn around, and lift [your] genitals.” Even if you are innocent, you will now join the 65 million Americans with an arrest record and experience the “civil death” of discrimination by employers, landlords, and whoever else conducts a background check.[1]  And, of course, if you fail to pay bail or appear for court, a judge will issue a warrant to render you “arrestable on sight” in the future.[2]

This case involves a suspicionless stop, one in which the officer initiated this chain of events without justification.As the Justice Department notes, supra, at 8, many innocent people are subjected to the humiliations of these unconstitutional searches. The white defendant in this case shows that anyone’s dignity can be violated in this manner.[3]  But it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny.[4]  For generations, black and brown parents have given their children “the talk”—instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger—all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them.[5]

By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black,guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.

We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere.[6]  They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.”

I dissent.  J. Sotomayor.”
CASES CITED:
++ Whren v. United States, 517 U. S. 806, 813 (1996)
++ Terry, 392 U. S., at 21
++ United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U. S. 873, 886–887 (1975)
++ Adams v. Williams, 407 U. S. 143, 147 (1972)
++ United States v. Sokolow, 490 U. S. 1, 4–5 (1989)
++ Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U. S. 119, 124–125 (2000)
++ Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U. S. 146, 154–155 (2004); Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U. S. ___ (2014)
++  Epp, PulledOver, at 5.
++ See Florida v. Bostick, 501 U. S. 429, 438 (1991).
++ Terry, 392 U. S., at 17.
++ Terry, 392 U. S., at 17, n. 13.
++ Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U. S. 318, 323–324 (2001).
++ Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington, 566 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2012) (slip op., at 2–3); Maryland v. King, 569 U. S. ___, ___ (2013) (slip op., at 28).
OTHER REFERENCES:
1.   Chin, The New Civil Death, 160 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1789, 1805 (2012); see J. Jacobs, The Eternal Criminal Record 33–51 (2015); Young & Petersilia, Keeping Track, 129 Harv. L. Rev.1318, 1341–1357 (2016).
2. A. Goffman, On the Run 196 (2014).
3. See M. Gottschalk, Caught 119–138 (2015).
4. See M. Alexander, The New Jim Crow 95–136 (2010).
5. See, e.g., W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903); J. Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963); T. Coates, Between the World and Me (2015).
6. See L. Guinier & G. Torres, The Miner’s Canary 274–283(2002).
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