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Supreme Court issues important Fourth Amendment ruling

Every state has a constitution and a supreme court that provides the ultimate interpretation of matters that arise under that constitution.  Similarly, there is a Federal constitution which the United States Supreme Court interprets.  In the event of a conflict between the two, the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution makes the United States Supreme Court the final word.

The first ten amendments to the United States Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights. These Amendments restrict and define what the Federal government can and cannot do in its relationships with its citizens.

Although at one time the Unites States Constitution applied only to the Federal government, since the Civil War and passage of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, the restrictions in the Bill of Rights have been applied to actions by state governments. This is known as the Incorporation Doctrine.

One of the most important Constitutional provisions in DUI law is the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment prohibits law enforcement from conducting “unreasonable searches and seizures”.

Many of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in criminal law involve interpretations of the Fourth Amendment.  Every encounter a citizen has with law enforcement while operating a motor vehicle, even a simple speeding ticket, implicates the Fourth Amendment, making these decisions especially important.

The Federal interpretation of the Fourth Amendment merely defines the minimum rights that the government must grant its citizens. There is nothing in the United States Constitution that prevents an individual state from broadening its citizen’s constitutional protections.

However, Illinois courts have adopted the “lockstep doctrine”, meaning that its courts are in lockstep with the federally imposed restrictions on citizen protection. (People v. Caballes , 221 Ill. 2d 282 ( 2006)) Moreover, although the Illinois General Assembly and/or the Illinois Constitution could broaden these protections, no such broadening has occurred.

One issue that arises under Fourth Amendment jurisprudence concerns anonymous tips.  Police must have a “reasonable articulable suspicion” of criminal activity before they can initiate contact with a citizen.  In short, there must be “more than a hunch” to pull over a driver. (Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968))

The fact the police were “correct” in their suspicions (for instance, the driver in fact was drunk or there were drugs in the car) is irrelevant. What matters is what the officer knew at the time he stopped the driver.

To hold otherwise would be to defeat the purpose of the Fourth Amendment, which is to prohibit the government from harassing its citizens for no reason. To enforce the Fourth Amendment, the courts have adopted the Exclusionary Rule.

The remedy for an improper stop is to suppress (“exclude”) any evidence gathered as a result of the illegal stop, typically making it impossible for the state to prosecute its case.  At that point, the state will be forced to dismiss the charges.

An anonymous tip requires more than someone “dropping a dime” on the driver. There must be some reason for law enforcement to believe the tipster is reliable (Florida v. J.L., 529 U.S. 266 (2000))

One generally acceptable marker of reliability is the tipster identifying himself, the thinking of the courts being that if the tip is false, the tipster is exposed to prosecution and is therefore unlikely to give a false tip.  Moreover, if the tipster provides sufficient details about the circumstance of the alleged crime, the tipster is generally considered sufficiently reliable.

The United States Supreme has handed down its decision in Navartte v. California.  Based upon an anonymous telephone tip with a statement that someone is weaving on the road, the Supreme Court said that the stop and subsequent DUI arrest were valid. Many see this as an erosion of the rights of motorists and ripe for mischief from disgruntled former significant others.

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