By: Dee Wampler

Unconstitutional detention can lead to Constitutional searches

An officer’s lack of reasonable suspicion to stop a pedestrian doesn’t taint evidence gained in a search conducted after the officer has discovered that the person has a valid arrest warrant. (Somewhat similar to the arrest of Michael Brown.)¹

In June, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Utah v. Strieff,² discussing the “attenuation exception to the exclusionary rule.” The court looked at three factors (known as the Brown³ factors), (1) the temporal proximity of the unlawful detention and the discovery of incriminating evidence; (2) the presence of intervening circumstances, and (3) the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct. The court considered whether the defendant’s confession, after being unlawfully detained, was of sufficient freewill as to purge the primary taint of the arrest.

In this case there was no intervening event that broke the connection between the defendant’s illegal detention and his confession.¹¹ His statement was an act of his own freewill and in no way was coerced or even induced by official authority. Police were surveying the defendant’s house. They did not know the defendant, had never seen him before, and had not even seen him enter the house. They had been periodically surveying the house off and on for a week for a few hours at a time because an anonymous caller left a message on a drug tip that “they believed that there was narcotics traffic at the house.” Police saw short term traffic at the house. Apart from this anonymous tip offices knew nothing about the house. They didn’t know who owned it, who lived in it, or whether any crimes had occurred. Police decided that they would detain the next person they saw leaving the house. That person turned out to be Strieff.

Officers detained Strieff as he was coming out of the house, and just decided they would “like to ask somebody” if they could find out what was going on in the house. They did not have reasonable suspicion to detain Strieff and it was a classic fishing expedition for evidence “in the hope that something might turn up.”²² Officers stopped him “utterly at random.” Strieff had apparently left the house in order to go to a nearby convenience store when he was stopped and asked for identification.

The defendant was detained about one block from the house. They checked and found he had a minor traffic warrant. He was arrested on the warrant, a search was conducted and they found methamphetamine and paraphernalia in his pockets. He was convicted on possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. Strieff moved to suppress the evidence on the grounds that the evidence was the fruit of an unconstitutional detention.

Even if police violate the Constitution by stopping someone without suspicion, the subsequently found arrest warrant entitles them to conduct a search as long as there is no otherwise “flagrant police misconduct.” The evidence is admissible when the connection between unconstitutional police conduct and the evidence is remote or has been interrupted by some intervening circumstances

There are some 16,000 outstanding arrest warrants in Ferguson as of 2015, and thousands of other arrest warrants in St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and around the state. Cincinnati recently reported more than 100,000 warrants pending for failure to appear in court. New York City has 1.2 million outstanding warrants.³³

This is a favorable case for law enforcement officers and should be studied and understood. It just might make a difference in an upcoming arrest.


¹     Within a few short minutes officer Darren Wilson had a description of a “stealing in progress” and made his stop. The “hands up-don’t shoot” account was never proven. State and federal reports discredited totally this account.
²     Relying on Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S. 590 (1975).
³     Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S. 590 (1975).
¹¹   U.S. v. Ceccolini, 435 U.S. 268, 279 (1978) and whether the statement was an act of her own freewill and in no way coerced or even induced by official authority.
²²   Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S. 590 (1975).
³³   Richard Wolf, “Justices: Warrants Entitled ‘Any Searches.'” USA Today, June 21, 2016, P. 3B.


Dee Wampler – learn more

At the Law Offices of Dee Wampler & Joseph Passanise, Dee Wampler draws from more than four decades of legal experience in defending clients accused of an array of crimes throughout southwestern Missouri, including Springfield, St. Louis and Kansas City. As a Springfield native, Mr. Wampler understands the nuances of the Missouri court system, but he is an equally formidable criminal trial attorney in high-profile federal cases involving serious charges. His work has earned him recognition across the country and even internationally. Several nationally syndicated television shows, including “Saturday Night with Connie Chung,” “Inside Edition” and ABC’s “Primetime” have featured his cases, and Missouri Lawyers Weekly has showcased his work approximately 20 times.