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U.S. Supreme Court finds that search was not unreasonable

Florida residents might be interested to learn about a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling concerning the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. On Dec. 15, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a police officer did not violate a driver's Fourth Amendment rights by searching his vehicle following an unlawful traffic stop. The lone voice of dissent in the 8-1 vote was from Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The incident that prompted the Supreme Court case took place in 2009. A man who was driving along a highway in North Carolina was pulled over because he had a broken taillight. After the driver was stopped, police conducted a search of his vehicle in which a bag of cocaine was found, resulting in drug charges. However, it was later determined that police had no right to stop the man in the first place because it is not illegal to have a broken taillight in North Carolina.

In his appeal, the North Carolina man had argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that police should not be allowed to claim ignorance of the law as a defense. Because the traffic stop was unlawful, he argued that the evidence that was seized from his vehicle could not be used against him. Chief Justice John Roberts contended that the police officer's belief that a broken taillight was illegal may have been false, but it was not unreasonable.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court found that stopping a car for a broken taillight was not unreasonable, there are some traffic stops and searches that may be deemed as such. A criminal defense attorney may be able to help a defendant who has been searched unreasonably to dispute drug charges that they were handed as a result.

Source: NPR.org, "Supreme Court Upholds North Carolina Traffic Stop", Nina Totenberg, December 15, 2014

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