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Heien v. North Carolina: 6 Notable Quotes on Hot-Button Case

By    |   Sunday, 21 Jun 2015 08:32 PM

A controversial ruling in 2014 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Heien v. North Carolina was much criticized for its apparent impact on the Fourth Amendment. The outpouring of quotable statements surrounding the case indicated the strong feelings about the court's ruling.

The Supreme Court, voting 8-1, upheld the drug conviction of a man in a vehicle that was pulled over and searched because the officer spotted a single non-functioning rear brake light. The officer performed what he thought was a legal search of the vehicle, turning up a bag of cocaine. But when it was discovered North Carolina had no law against driving with one broken rear brake light, many thought it was an illegal search. However, eight justices decided an arrest based on a mistaken reading of the law can still be permissible and reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, and that the resulting evidence is admissible.

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Here are some quotes about the case that show the strong feelings it engendered:

1. "To be reasonable is not to be perfect, and so the Fourth Amendment allows for some mistakes on the part of government officials, giving them 'fair leeway for enforcing the law in the community's protection.' " – Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority in the Supreme Court opinion.

2. "Giving officers license to effect seizures so long as they can attach to their reasonable view of the facts some reasonable legal interpretation (or misinterpretation) that suggests a law has been violated significantly expands this authority. ...(“There is scarcely any law which does not admit of some ingenious doubt”). One wonders how a citizen seeking to be law-abiding and to structure his or her behavior to avoid these invasive, frightening, and humiliating encounters could do so." –Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the lone dissenting justice in the opinion.

3. "By refusing to hold police accountable to knowing and abiding by the rule of law, the Supreme Court has given government officials a green light to routinely violate the law." – John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal watchdog group.

4. "Heien has argued that since ignorance of the law is never an excuse for citizens accused of crimes, it defies logic to create that double standard for police. This week, that argument lost by a wide margin," – Dahlia Lithwick, Slate legal correspondent.

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5. "The constitutional problem is the admission of this evidence. And it seems to me whether it's properly admitted because the Fourth Amendment wasn't violated or whether it's properly admitted because the remedy for that violation is not exclusion of evidence, you lose either way, don't you?" — Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking to plaintiff Nicholas Heien's lawyer, Jeffrey L. Fisher, during oral arguments, quoted by Scripps Howard Foundation Wire.

6.
"The Court’s holding raises two major questions. First, how much law does a reasonable police officer know? And second, if a reasonable mistake of law means there was no Fourth Amendment violation, how do we reconcile that with the remedies cases saying that a reasonable mistake of law is a reason why there is no Fourth Amendment remedy?" – Orin Kerr for The Washington Post. 

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A controversial ruling in 2014 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Heien v. North Carolina was much criticized for its apparent impact on the Fourth Amendment. The outpouring of quotable statements surrounding the case indicated the strong feelings about the court's ruling.
heinen, north carolina, supreme court, quotes
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2015-32-21
Sunday, 21 Jun 2015 08:32 PM
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