On Monday, the Supreme Court affirmed Fourth Amendment protections for drivers, saying anything found during an illegal stop cannot be used as evidence in court, but it made an exception if police discover there is an outstanding arrest warrant for the driver.
The court said such searches do not violate the Fourth Amendment if they are done after police find there is an outstanding arrest warrant for the driver that is valid and unconnected to the conduct that prompted the stop.
In a strongly worded dissent to the 5-3 decision in Utah v. Strieff, Justice Sonia Sotomayor railed against the decision.
“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,” wrote Sotomayor. “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.”
“Most striking about the Court’s opinion,” noted Sotomayor “is its insistence that the event here was ‘isolated,’ with ‘no indication that this unlawful stop was part of any systemic or recurrent police misconduct.'”
However, “nothing about this case is isolated,” she wrote.
“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. 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.”
In Connecticut, black and Hispanic drivers are pulled over and searched at more than twice the rate of white drivers, though white drivers had the higher likelihood of being arrested or carrying contraband, according to an analysis of traffic stop data.
|Category||Stopped and searched||Contraband found||Driver arrested|
Statewide, about 1 in 20 black or Hispanic drivers who are stopped are subjected to police searches compared to 1 in 50 white drivers.
Of the white drivers searched, about 39 percent of them were found carrying contraband and 29 percent of them were subsequently arrested.
By contrast, black and Hispanic drivers were found with contraband 30 percent and 28 percent of the time.
Searched black and Hispanic drivers were arrested 22 percent and 25 percent of the time, respectively.
The Supreme Court’s decision could have a big impact on racial profiling by encouraging more stops in neighborhoods with more minorities, according to Tejas Bhatt, an assistant public defender in New Haven.
“If police are permitted to illegally stop motorists without fear of suppression of evidence found as a result of that illegal stop, then there is no incentive to make traffic stops that comply with existing law and preferred societal norms,” said Bhatt. “Racial profiling, currently the subject of consternation and disapproval, will become de rigueur.
|Department||Vehicles searched||Blacks searched||Hispanics searched||Whites searched|
As we’ve noted in our coverage before, wide differences in practices among police departments can have a big effect on averages.
Nearly a quarter of all drivers in Waterbury are searched when stopped by police. That’s more than 2.5 times the rate of white drivers.
Bridgeport searches black drivers at more than three times the rate of white drivers (12.35 percent to 3.64).
Yale University police have the starkest disparity. Less than 3 percent of stopped white drivers are searched compared to 12 percent of black drivers and 22 percent of Hispanics. However, contraband is discovered for each ethnicity between 45 and 53 percent of the time.
|Department||Blacks arrested||Hispanics arrested||Whites arrested|
|State Police: Troop I||41.3%||42.86%||47.54%|
Hispanics stopped by Yale police are least likely to be arrested, compared to the black and white drivers stopped.
Black drivers in Groton City have the highest rate of arrest after being stopped, more than two out of three.