Tags: Law Enforcement | heien | north carolina | fourth amendment | impact

The Impact of Heien v. North Carolina on the Fourth Amendment

By    |   Sunday, 21 Jun 2015 08:03 PM

A roadside encounter in 2009 between a North Carolina police officer and a motorist with a malfunctioning rear brake light turned into Heien v. North Carolina, a critical and controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling that many say erodes the Fourth Amendment.

Nicholas Heien was a passenger in a car pulled over by police in Surry County, North Carolina, because the officer spotted only one working brake light. During the stop, the officer, Sgt. Matt Darisse, asked to search the vehicle and found a bag of cocaine belonging to Heien.

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A state appeals court threw out Heien's drug trafficking conviction because, as it turned out, state law only required one functioning rear brake light – and therefore, the appeals court reasoned, the officer had no cause to stop Heien, much less search his vehicle.

More appeals followed and in December 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that Darisse's mistaken interpretation of the law was reasonable, and not a violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against "unreasonable searches and seizures," a legal commentary website, Verdict, reported. Heien's conviction would stand.

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb wrote on Verdict, "It strikes me as a whole new assault on the Fourth Amendment to further and explicitly contract the scope of the Amendment itself by saying that police may enforce non-existent laws, as occurred in the stopping of Heien, without even nominally violating the right against unreasonable seizures."

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The Rutherford Institute, a legal watchdog group, called the ruling "a blow to the constitutional rights of citizens," and said in an essay that the Court had contradicted "the venerable principle that 'ignorance of the law is no excuse.' "

The lone holdout, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, warned in her dissent that the high court was "further eroding the Fourth Amendment’s protection of civil liberties in a context where that protection has already been worn down."

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A roadside encounter in 2009 between a North Carolina police officer and a motorist with a malfunctioning rear brake light turned into Heien v. North Carolina, a critical and controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling that many say erodes the Fourth Amendment.
heien, north carolina, fourth amendment, impact
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2015-03-21
Sunday, 21 Jun 2015 08:03 PM
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