SCOTUS: Cops can make up reason to stop you.

Supreme Court: Traffic stop, search OK despite misunderstanding of law

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that police officers may use evidence seized during a traffic stop even if the reason the officers pulled the car over was based on a misunderstanding of the state's law.

In the 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a North Carolina police officer who had stopped a car with a broken brake light – and then found cocaine in the car- even though driving with a faulty brake light isn’t against the law in the state.

Nicholas Heien argued that the sandwich bag of cocaine found in his car during the 2009 search should not have been allows as evidence because the police officer who stopped him had no valid reason to do so.

Heien, who consented to the search of the car after he was stopped, pleaded guilty and was given a maximum prison term of two years.

A state appeals court said the stop was impermissible because a quirky state law only requires a car to have one functioning brake light. But the state's highest court reversed, finding that the officer's mistaken reading of the law was reasonable.

The Supreme Court agreed, finding that the Fourth Amendment requires police to act reasonably, but not perfectly. Chief Justice John Roberts said that just as a police officer's mistake of fact can justify a traffic stop, a reasonable misunderstanding about the law can also satisfy the Constitution.

The ruling means Heien can't try to overturn his conviction for drug trafficking by suppressing the drug evidence found in his car.

Heien had argued that ignorance of the law is no excuse for citizens accused of crimes and said there shouldn't be a double standard for police. But Roberts said that simply means the state can't impose a punishment for something that isn't illegal.

"Heien is not appealing a brake-light ticket," Roberts said. "He is appealing a cocaine-trafficking conviction as to which there is no asserted mistake of fact or law."

Heien was a passenger when his car was pulled over on a North Carolina highway in 2009 because the right brake light was out. Officer Matt Darisse of the Surry County Sheriff's Department issued a warning citation over the light to the driver, Maynor Javier Vasquez.

Darisse then asked for permission to search the inside of the car and Heiein consented. The search revealed a plastic sandwich bag of cocaine in the trunk.

Roberts said the officer's decision to stop the car in the first place was reasonable given the confusing way in which the law was worded. Under North Carolina's decades-old law, all cars made after 1955 are required to have a "stop lamp" that can be part of "one or more other rear lamps." But no court had ever interpreted the law in the modern era to require only one working brake light.

 

"I suspect most of you here were surprised to learn that only one brake light is required in North Carolina, even if you are from North Carolina," Roberts said Monday as he read his opinion from the bench.

Both the state and the Obama administration had argued that refusing to allow such stops would inject too much uncertainty into the daily actions of police in the field who need to make quick decisions. Reasonable mistakes of law are acceptable, they argued, especially when dealing with a complex law that might be subject to different interpretations.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the lone dissenter. She said an officer's mistake of law "no matter how reasonable, cannot support the individualized suspicion necessary to justify a seizure under the Fourth Amendment."

The notion that the law "is definite and knowable sits at the foundation of our legal system," Sotomayor said. "And it is courts, not officers, that are in the best position to interpret the laws."

I'm pretty sure that ignorance of the law is no defense. At least that argument doesn't save my ass when I break it. Apparently they can just say they "thought" that was indeed a law, and then do whatever they want.

My god...NEVER EVER EVER EVER speak to a cop without a lawyer present. If you are pulled over, and you know you have some shit on you, LAWYER UP ON THE SPOT. Don't say anything other than I need my lawyer here. This guy would not be in jail if he had done that. Any decent lawyer would have ripped that cop to pieces for that. Phone Post 3.0

Let's say that a policeman pulls you over because you have tinted windows on your car, thinking that the law says that tint adjacent to the driver is illegal, when the law actually state " nothing darker than 50% adjacent to the driver"..

Judging by the responses here, it appears that people think if he were to find a dead body in the back seat, then he should let you go, because you were obeying the law when you got stopped....

YOU STILL HAVE A FUCKING DEAD BODY IN THE GOD DAMN CAR!!!! WHO GIVES A FUCK IF YOU WERE A MODEL DRIVER WHILE YOU WERE TOTING IT AROUND?!?!!!

HELLO!!!!????? Phone Post 3.0

novaguy - Let's say that a policeman pulls you over because you have tinted windows on your car, thinking that the law says that tint adjacent to the driver is illegal, when the law actually state " nothing darker than 50% adjacent to the driver"..

Judging by the responses here, it appears that people think if he were to find a dead body in the back seat, then he should let you go, because you were obeying the law when you got stopped....

YOU STILL HAVE A FUCKING DEAD BODY IN THE GOD DAMN CAR!!!! WHO GIVES A FUCK IF YOU WERE A MODEL DRIVER WHILE YOU WERE TOTING IT AROUND?!?!!!

HELLO!!!!????? Phone Post 3.0
terrible analogy Phone Post 3.0

novaguy - Let's say that a policeman pulls you over because you have tinted windows on your car, thinking that the law says that tint adjacent to the driver is illegal, when the law actually state " nothing darker than 50% adjacent to the driver"..

Judging by the responses here, it appears that people think if he were to find a dead body in the back seat, then he should let you go, because you were obeying the law when you got stopped....

YOU STILL HAVE A FUCKING DEAD BODY IN THE GOD DAMN CAR!!!! WHO GIVES A FUCK IF YOU WERE A MODEL DRIVER WHILE YOU WERE TOTING IT AROUND?!?!!!

HELLO!!!!????? Phone Post 3.0


This is more akin to an invalid search warrant that turns up something illegal.  In most cases where that happens, the evidence is thrown out because the warrant was invalid.  In this case the probable cause for the stop was invalid.  No different than an invalid search warrant.



The current scotus panel is quite possibly the most retarded panel I've ever seen.  

angryinch - 
novaguy - Let's say that a policeman pulls you over because you have tinted windows on your car, thinking that the law says that tint adjacent to the driver is illegal, when the law actually state " nothing darker than 50% adjacent to the driver"..

Judging by the responses here, it appears that people think if he were to find a dead body in the back seat, then he should let you go, because you were obeying the law when you got stopped....

YOU STILL HAVE A FUCKING DEAD BODY IN THE GOD DAMN CAR!!!! WHO GIVES A FUCK IF YOU WERE A MODEL DRIVER WHILE YOU WERE TOTING IT AROUND?!?!!!

HELLO!!!!????? Phone Post 3.0


This is more akin to an invalid search warrant that turns up something illegal.  In most cases where that happens, the evidence is thrown out because the warrant was invalid.  In this case the probable cause for the stop was invalid.  No different than an invalid search warrant.



The current scotus panel is quite possibly the most retarded panel I've ever seen.  


His mistake was consenting to search. If you don't consent, and they search anyway, they have to prove probable cause. If you consent, everything before that does not matter.

Never consent. Consent means you weren't raped.

note to self Make sure my tail lights work before transporting large amounts of drugs.

chrisbaker -
novaguy - Let's say that a policeman pulls you over because you have tinted windows on your car, thinking that the law says that tint adjacent to the driver is illegal, when the law actually state " nothing darker than 50% adjacent to the driver"..

Judging by the responses here, it appears that people think if he were to find a dead body in the back seat, then he should let you go, because you were obeying the law when you got stopped....

YOU STILL HAVE A FUCKING DEAD BODY IN THE GOD DAMN CAR!!!! WHO GIVES A FUCK IF YOU WERE A MODEL DRIVER WHILE YOU WERE TOTING IT AROUND?!?!!!

HELLO!!!!????? Phone Post 3.0
terrible analogy Phone Post 3.0
It's really a good analogy. The problem here is transporting coke shouldn't be a crime. No one cares when real criminals can't win their motions to surpress. No one cares about the rights of murderers and pedophiles. You'd see a Matt Sera pic here of we were talking about a pedophile. Phone Post 3.0

LOL @ agreeing to a vehicle search with a bag of coke in the trunk. Guy deserves to be locked up just for being so stupid. Phone Post 3.0

Stan Wang -
novaguy - Let's say that a policeman pulls you over because you have tinted windows on your car, thinking that the law says that tint adjacent to the driver is illegal, when the law actually state " nothing darker than 50% adjacent to the driver"..

Judging by the responses here, it appears that people think if he were to find a dead body in the back seat, then he should let you go, because you were obeying the law when you got stopped....

YOU STILL HAVE A FUCKING DEAD BODY IN THE GOD DAMN CAR!!!! WHO GIVES A FUCK IF YOU WERE A MODEL DRIVER WHILE YOU WERE TOTING IT AROUND?!?!!!

HELLO!!!!????? Phone Post 3.0

hi. you are retarded. have a good day.
You people are whining about a cop stopping you for a crime he "thought" you were committing, and then busting you for a much bigger crime that you actually WERE committing, and thinking you should be able to get off for the bigger crime because you were a model driver...

Its NOT ME who is the fucking idiot.. Phone Post 3.0

As a former LEO, that decision was fucked. What in god's name is happening to this country? Does no one respect the constitution anymore? Mother of god... Phone Post 3.0

" No one cares when real criminals can't win their motions to surpress."

The benefits of due process heavily outweigh having to let a bad guy go every now & then. I very much care, in context.


Sing it with me now!

Hey, freedom isn't free.

I don't see a problem with anything that happened here.

NEVER CONSENT TO SEARCHES.

NEVER CONSENT TO SEARCHES.

NEVER CONSENT TO SEARCHES.

NEVER CONSENT TO SEARCHES.

NEVER CONSENT TO SEARCHES.

NEVER CONSENT TO SEARCHES.

NEVER CONSENT TO SEARCHES.

novaguy - Let's say that a policeman pulls you over because you have tinted windows on your car, thinking that the law says that tint adjacent to the driver is illegal, when the law actually state " nothing darker than 50% adjacent to the driver"..

Judging by the responses here, it appears that people think if he were to find a dead body in the back seat, then he should let you go, because you were obeying the law when you got stopped....

YOU STILL HAVE A FUCKING DEAD BODY IN THE GOD DAMN CAR!!!! WHO GIVES A FUCK IF YOU WERE A MODEL DRIVER WHILE YOU WERE TOTING IT AROUND?!?!!!

HELLO!!!!????? Phone Post 3.0

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

"Heien, who consented to the search of the car after he was stopped"

"Heien, who consented to the search of the car after he was stopped"

"Heien, who consented to the search of the car after he was stopped"

"Heien, who consented to the search of the car after he was stopped"

"Heien, who consented to the search of the car after he was stopped"

"Heien, who consented to the search of the car after he was stopped"