WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a blow to the constitutional rights of citizens, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Heien v. State of North Carolina that police officers are permitted to violate American citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights if the violation results from a “reasonable” mistake about the law on the part of police. Acting contrary to the venerable principle that “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” the Court ruled that evidence obtained by police during a traffic stop that was not legally justified can be used to prosecute the person if police were reasonably mistaken that the person had violated the law. The Rutherford Institute had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hold law enforcement officials accountable to knowing and abiding by the rule of law. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Court’s lone dissenter, warned that the court’s ruling “means further eroding the Fourth Amendment’s protection of civil liberties in a context where that protection has already been worn down.”
The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Heien v. North Carolina is available at www.rutherford.org.
“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,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of the award-winning book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “This case may have started out with an improper traffic stop, but where it will end—given the turbulence of our age, with its police overreach, military training drills on American soil, domestic surveillance, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, wrongful convictions, and corporate corruption—is not hard to predict. This ruling is what I would call a one-way, nonrefundable ticket to the police state.”