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Warrantless Searches Based on Outstanding Warrants Permitted

Date: September 14, 2016

In a recent 5-3 decision, Utah v. Strieff, the United States Supreme Court ruled that police can seize evidence from an unconstitutional search so long as the person has an outstanding arrest warrant.

The High Court ruled that even if police violate the Constitution by stopping someone without suspicion, an arrest warrant entitles them to conduct a search. In that circumstance, they said, there is no “flagrant police misconduct.”

In writing the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “Evidence is admissible when the connection between unconstitutional police conduct and the evidence is remote or has been interrupted by some intervening circumstance.”

In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “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. 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.”

At this juncture, the impact of the High Court’s most recent decision on searches and seizures in South Carolina is unknown. However, if you or someone you know has outstanding warrants for traffic tickets or criminal charges, or was arrested following a dubious search or seizure, contact the law offices of Bernstein & Bernstein, LLC, to see if we can help.