U.S. Supreme Court will hear Utah case involving drug search

Posted at 8:39 AM, Oct 01, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-01 23:38:41-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a petition by the state of Utah in a case involving reasonable suspicion during a search for drugs.

The nation's top court agreed Thursday to hear Utah v. Strieff, a case that deals with Fourth Amendment search and seizure.

A Salt Lake County Jail booking mug shot of Edward Strieff, Jr.

A Salt Lake County Jail booking mug shot of Edward Strieff, Jr.

The case centers around an incident in 2006 when police got an anonymous tip alleging drugs being sold out of a South Salt Lake home. A detective had the home under surveillance and stopped Edward Strieff, Jr. to question him. During that stop, Detective Doug Fackrell arrested Strieff on an outstanding warrant and found methamphetamine and a drug pipe.

Strieff challenged his arrest, claiming the officer lacked reasonable suspicion. The district court allowed the evidence in, the Utah Court of Appeals upheld that decision but the Utah Supreme Court reversed it.

Read the Utah Supreme Court opinion here:

"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,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement Thursday.

At a home where Strieff was last known to have lived, a man who answered the door said he recalled Strieff talking about the case but had not seen him in some time. In an email to FOX 13, Strieff's public defense attorney expressed confidence they would win again at the nation's top court.

"We are excited to have the opportunity to win this case again in the United States Supreme Court. In a well-reasoned decision, the Utah Supreme Court unanimously suppressed evidence that was seized after a random detention of my client," Joan Watt wrote. "We believe that the Utah Supreme Court correctly decided the issue in a thoughtful decision that protects us all from random stops by police officers. We think the United States Supreme Court will agree and uphold the decision of our state supreme court."

The Utah Attorney General's Office petitioned the case to the  U.S. Supreme Court, which has granted certariori. The case is expected to be heard in the spring.

The case will have broader implications than just what happened to Strieff, said Carissa Byrne Hessick, a University of Utah law professor. It will settle legal disputes over evidence and what can and cannot be used against you in court.

"We decide these cases involving the exclusionary rule, the courts tell us, in order to deter police from future misconduct," she told FOX 13. "That is to make it so they don't have an incentive to conduct illegal stops and illegal searches."