Monday, December 15, 2014

SCOTUS: Police Don't Know the Law? No Problem.

Today, in Heien v. North Carolina, the Supreme Court found that an officer's reasonable mistake of law can still support reasonable suspicion to stop a car for further investigation. The officer's mistake does not make the interaction unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. We blogged about the cert grant here

Roberts wrote the opinion, joined by Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Kennedy, Breyer and Kagan. Kagan also wrote a concurring opinion, with Ginsburg. Sotomayor was the lone dissent. Roberts cut to the chase:
In this case, an officer stopped a vehicle because one of its two brake lights was out, but court later determined that a single working brake light was all the law required. The question presented is whether such a mistake of law can nonetheless give rise to the reasonable suspicion necessary to uphold the seizure under the Fourth Amendment. We hold that it can. 
So mistakes of law will be treated the same as mistakes of fact?

Justice Kagan chimes in to make sure everyone knows that the test is one of objective reasonableness.
Sotomayor drew a hard line in her dissent: "To my mind, the more administrable approach—and the
one more consistent with our precedents and principles—would be to hold that an officer’s mistake of law, no matter how reasonable, cannot support the individualized suspicion necessary to justify a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. I respectfully dissent."

More detail and analysis tomorrow.

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