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Utah v. Strieff

Justia Summary

Detective Fackrell conducted surveillance on a South Salt Lake City residence based on an anonymous tip about drug dealing. The number of people he observed making brief visits during the week made him suspect drug activity. After seeing Strieff leave the residence, Fackrell detained Strieff at a nearby parking lot, requested identification and relayed the information to a police dispatcher, who informed him that Strieff had an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation. Fackrell searched Streiff and found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. The Utah Supreme Court ordered that the evidence be suppressed. The Supreme Court reversed. The evidence Fackrell seized incident to Strieff’s arrest is admissible; Fackrell’s discovery of a valid, pre-existing, and untainted arrest warrant attenuated the connection between the unconstitutional investigatory stop and the evidence seized incident to a lawful arrest. The exclusionary rule encompasses both the “primary evidence obtained as a direct result of an illegal search or seizure” and “evidence later discovered and found to be derivative of an illegality.” To ensure that the rule’s deterrence benefits are not outweighed by its substantial social costs, there are several exceptions, including the attenuation doctrine, which provides for admissibility when the connection between unconstitutional police conduct and the evidence is sufficiently remote or has been interrupted by intervening circumstances. The Court noted three factors: temporal proximity between the initially unlawful stop and the search favors suppressing the evidence; the presence of intervening circumstances (the existence of a valid warrant, predating the investigation and entirely unconnected with the stop) strongly favors the prosecution; the “purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct” also strongly favors the state. Fackrell was at most negligent; his errors did not rise to a purposeful or flagrant violation of Strieff’s rights.

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