Should incriminating evidence be used against a defendant if it was discovered in the course of an illegal police stop?
That was the question before the Supreme Court on Monday, the first day of oral arguments since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The court has been weakening the Fourth Amendment’s defense against illegal searches for years. Monday’s case gives the justices an opportunity to restore some of its power.
The case, Utah v. Strieff, started in 2006, when the Salt Lake City police got an anonymous tip reporting drug activity at a house. An officer monitored the house for several days and became suspicious at the number of people he saw entering and leaving. When one of those people, Edward Strieff, left to walk to a nearby convenience store, the officer stopped him and asked for his identification.
A routine check revealed that Mr. Strieff had an outstanding “small traffic warrant.” The officer arrested him based on that earlier warrant, searched him and found a bag of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia in his pockets.