Important Issues Regarding Criminal Law Before The Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court decides the law of the land, particularly those cases related to criminal defense and procedure.  This session the Court is considering a case where the issue is whether a police officer can stop a motorist under a mistaken belief that a violation of the law exists.  the case at hand is Heien vs. North Carolina.  In that case the policeman pulled over the defendant for not having two working brke lights, turns out that is not illegal in the state,  afterwards evidence was uncovered which led to a criminal prosecution against the driver.

The Court will be asked to consider whether a stop of a citizen is legal when the officer had a mistaken belief that his or her conduct violated the law.  This issue is surprisingly common in California where many stops are made on the motoring pubic for alleged violations which turn out later to not be a violation of the vehicle code at all.

Bruce Blythe, a DUI Attorney in Bakersfield recounts one case in particular where he represented a driver from out of state who had only one license plate on his car, in the back.  California law requires two plates if the car is registered in this state but the law only compels the owner display the number of plates issued, if the car is registered elsewhere.  Turns out the laws in many states is that only one plate is issued, as was the case in his example.  Well, the CHP stopped the car an the driver turned out to be under the influence.  Buck filed a motion challenging the stop on the grounds the contact violated the Fourth Amendent, the case was dismissed under current CA law that makes the mistake on the officer’s part unreasonable.  This could change if the IS Supreme Court finds these types of actions ere OK.

California follows federal law when it comes to fourth amendment violations so any adverse decision will definitely impact the citizen of this state.  The Heien case will also influence how aggressive cops will get in areas such as drug interdiction.  Other cases are also slated to be decided in this term, however the Heien vs. North Carolina cases will have the most deep felt impact on defense attorneys and the rights of all of us for years to come.

Many believe that the police will stop people with no cause and make up a reason that they thought the actions were a violation of the law was illegal even though it was not.  This is a scary proposition to many experts who are concerned the police will have unbridled discretion to detain innocent members of the public .

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