When Justice Thomas is the author of a criminal opinion, you can be sure that it will not benefit the defendant and he does not disappoint in Utah v. Strieff. The reason this opinion is so bad is that it rewards the police for violating an individual’s constitutional rights. Here, even though the police officer had no right to stop Mr. Strieff and would not have known that an outstanding arrest warrant existed had he not made the illegal stop, methamphetamine recovered was admitted as evidence.
To understand why this is such a bad opinion, you need to understand the Exclusionary Rule. The Exclusionary Rule states that if the search or seizure is illegal then anything found can’t be used in trial except when:
1) The police would have found it anyway (Inevitable discovery)
2) There was an independent source which was completely separate from the illegal search or seizure, or
3) The connection between the misconduct and the evidence was weakened by time or intervening circumstances.
Here, Justice Thomas selected door #3, the Attenuation Doctrine. But the illegal stop was only minutes before a warrant check and subsequent search– so this doesn’t really make sense. So anytime a valid warrant exists, Strieff will be cited for the proposition that the illegal stop was only a little bit bad and after all, there was a preexisting valid warrant and the guy had drugs on him anyway. So I guess that makes it okay.