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Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law issues the following statement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Utah v. Strieff

For Immediate Release June 21, 2016

Contacts:

Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

WASHINGTON, D.C. – “The Supreme Court’s unfortunate decision dealt a significant blow to the Fourth Amendment right of all Americans to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “More disturbingly, the Court’s holding appears to place in jeopardy the rights and liberties of millions of people, a disproportionate number of whom are African American or minority, based on the existence of a trivial warrant that may be tied to a low-level or minor offense. Such an outcome would undermine current nationwide efforts to eliminate the ways in which race infects our criminal justice system.”

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees that evidence obtained by police in violation of a person’s rights cannot later be used to convict that person of a crime.  This rule, called the “exclusionary rule,” is meant to protect the right of privacy, guard against unwarranted government intrusion, and deter police officers and others in the criminal justice system from violating constitutional rights. In the case, the Supreme Court held that evidence found pursuant to an unconstitutional stop, normally inadmissible under this general rule, may now be admissible in a criminal trial if the person is determined to have an outstanding warrant.

Like all cases involving civil rights and civil liberties considered by our nation’s highest court, this case will affect the everyday lives of millions of Americans.

“The impact of today’s decision should not be underestimated,” said Clarke. “State and federal databases reveal that there are at least 7.8 million open warrants across the country, the vast majority of which are for minor and low-level offenses. In New York City alone, there are 1.4 million open warrants tied to low-level offenses such as riding a bike on the sidewalk or being present in a park after dark. Officers should not use such warrants as a pretext to engage in unconstitutional profiling of African Americans and other minorities who are disproportionately subject to warrants because of their inability to pay fines and fees tied to low-level offenses. This decision exposes law enforcement agencies to liability should they interpret the Court’s ruling as an invitation to engage in racial profiling of communities.”

In a dissenting opinion that cites important scholarship by Michelle Alexander and Ta-Nehisi Coates on racial disparities in the criminal justice system, Justice Sotomayor observes that “unlawful police  stops  corrode  all  our  civil  liberties  and  threaten  all  our lives.  Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.” Justice Sotomayor cautions that “this case tells  everyone,  white and  black, guilty  and  innocent,  that  an  officer  can  verify  your  legal  status  at  any time.  It  says that your body  is subject  to  invasion  while  courts  excuse  the  violation  of  your  rights.  It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”

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About The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers' Committee, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The Lawyers' Committee celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013 as it continued its quest of "Moving America Toward Justice." The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending, community development, employment, voting, education and environmental justice.

For more information about the Lawyers' Committee, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.

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