The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong. If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting
you on the warrant. Because the Fourth Amendment should prohibit, not permit, such misconduct, I dissent.
I thought I would repost something I wrote in law school about an earlier Supreme Court decision, Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court, that ran roughshod over the idea that people might have a constitutional right — and need — to refuse to identify themselves to the police. Given, as Justice Sotomayor notes, that such an identification can lead to other incursions on one’s liberty I think it’s worth remembering some of the earlier jurisprudence that has brought us to where we are with this case today.
(Originally posted 3/23/04. I’ve edited the writing slightly now to make sure the point I was trying to make back then are more clearly conveyed now, but I have not otherwise edited it for substance. While today I would tend to frame my legal analysis slightly differently, I think the rough take of a 1L still captures valid concerns that today’s ruling exemplifies and exacerbates.)