Oct. 1, 2015 – The U.S. Supreme Court today granted Utah’s petition for a writ of certiorari in Utah v. Strieff. In Strieff the Court will address a Fourth Amendment issue important for day-to-day police work: whether evidence seized incident to a lawful arrest on an outstanding warrant should be suppressed because the warrant was discovered during an investigatory stop that was later found to be just shy of the requisite reasonable suspicion. The U.S. Supreme Court will review the Utah Supreme Court’s January 2015 decision holding that the district court should have suppressed drug evidence found on Edward Joseph Strieff, Jr. after he was lawfully arrested by police on an outstanding warrant.
“Strieff’s arrest on an outstanding warrant was an intervening circumstance that justifies use of the evidence at trial – and we welcome the U.S. Supreme Court’s review of this matter,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes.
“The U.S. Supreme Court grants only about 75 of the more than 10,000 petitions for a writ of certiorari it receives each year,” added Utah Solicitor General Tyler Green, a former U.S. Supreme Court clerk. “The Court’s grant in Strieff is a testament to the first-rate work of the attorneys in the Criminal Appeals Division of the Utah Attorney General’s Office who prepared the petition, including Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey S. Gray, who was counsel of record for the petition.”
In December 2006, police received an anonymous tip that drugs were being sold out of a South Salt Lake residence. Detective Doug Fackrell conducted intermittent surveillance of the home over the course of a week. After observing some short-term visitors coming in and out of the residence that was consistent with drug activity, Detective Fackrell stopped Strieff as he left the home to question him about his activities there. During the stop, Detective Fackrell discovered that Strieff had an outstanding warrant and arrested him. In a lawful search incident to arrest, Detective Fackrell found methamphetamine and a drug pipe in Strieff’s pockets.
Strieff moved to suppress the evidence on the grounds that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion of criminal wrongdoing. Although the district court concluded that Detective Fackrell was mistaken in his belief that he had enough evidence to conduct the brief, investigatory stop – it ruled that the ensuing arrest on a warrant justified admission of the drug evidence in a trial for possession methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. The Utah Court of Appeals agreed, but the Utah Supreme Court reversed.