Supreme Court Rules Police Can Violate The 4th Amendment (If They Are Ignorant Of The Law)

Tyler Durden's picture

Via The Rutherford Institute,

U.S. Supreme Court Rules 8-1 that Citizens Have No Protection Against Fourth Amendment Violations by Police Officers Ignorant of the Law

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

“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.”

In April 2009, a Surry County (N.C.) law enforcement officer stopped a car traveling on Interstate 77, allegedly because of a brake light which at first failed to illuminate and then flickered on. The officer mistakenly believed that state law prohibited driving a car with one broken brake light. In fact, the state traffic law requires only one working brake light. Nevertheless, operating under a mistaken understanding of the law, during the course of the stop, the officer asked for permission to search the car. Nicholas Heien, the owner of the vehicle, granted his consent to a search. Upon the officer finding cocaine in the vehicle, he arrested and charged Heien with trafficking. Prior to his trial, Heien moved to suppress the evidence seized in light of the fact that the officer’s pretext for the stop was erroneous and therefore unlawful. Although the trial court denied the motion to suppress evidence, the state court of appeals determined that since the police officer had based his initial stop of the car on a mistaken understanding of the law, there was no valid reason for the stop in the first place. On appeal, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that even though the officer was wrong in concluding that the inoperable brake light was an offense, because the officer’s mistake was a “reasonable” one, the stop of the car did not violate the Fourth Amendment and the evidence resulting from the stop did not need to be suppressed. In weighing in on the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Rutherford Institute attorneys warn against allowing government agents to “benefit” from their mistakes of law, deliberate or otherwise, lest it become an incentive for abuse.         

Affiliate attorney Christopher F. Moriarty assisted The Rutherford Institute in advancing the arguments in the amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
DaddyO's picture

Stupidity and corruption reign...

And this decision from an entity that WAS NOT a party to the US Constitution...

but a creation there of.


vmromk's picture

The pieces of SHIT on the Supreme Court are nothing but stooges for the CRIMINALS over at the "Fed."

ACP's picture

What a bunch of horseshit. I never thought I'd agree with Sotomayor on anything, but I do here.

So, can I plead ignorance if I shoot someone who is violating my 4th amendment rights? It sounds like a reasonable mistake to me.

Publicus's picture

Those judges are traitors.

ACP's picture

If there's a group of people who deserve to have others turn their backs on them, it's definitely the Supreme Farce.

Publicus's picture

They are not alone though, our whole country is run by traitors.

Stuck on Zero's picture

What are citizens to do?  I think we should all carry copies of the US Constitution with us at all times.  If stopped by a cop for any reason read him the entire document and ask him if he understands.  Do this before you get your miranda warning.

Publicus's picture

LOL, like that piece of paper is going to do anything.

Might makes right.

Jumbotron's picture

Geroge W. Bush......


"The Constitution is just a goddamn piece of paper"


Comte de Saint Germain's picture

The American populace is easy to manipulate and subdue. Besides that, they are unable to think for themselves (trained not to think critically). Let's see if those less-than-lower-animals can grasp the actual opinion issued by the US Supreme Court on HEIEN v. NORTH CAROLINA

Publicus's picture

People as uninformed and as gullible as Americans have no future. Americans are a dead people that history is about to run over. - Paul Craig Roberts

DJ Happy Ending's picture

The hardest part for me is knowing everything my ancestors fought and worked to build was for nothing.

I come from a long line of Dudley Do-Rights who had no idea their blood and sweat was going to recreate what they left behind.

Comte de Saint Germain's picture

The post title is misleading and the Rutherford Institute's amicus curiae didn't  have any legal weight on the matter

amicus curiae [Latin "friend of the court"] (17c) A person who is not a party to a lawsuit but who petitions the court or is requested by the court to file a brief in the action because that person has a strong interest in the subject matter. - Often shortened to amicus. - Also termed friend of the court. PI. amici curiae.
Black's Law Dictionary® - Ninth Edition

Stoploss's picture


It's a bullshit post. A technicality on a traffic stop actually has to go to the supreme court??  LOL!!!

So what, the cop is crossed up on the law and stops a guy for a flickering tail light.  He prpbably walked up to the driver who was probably tweaking his ass off, jones'n like a motherfucker, nervous as a free whore in a football stadium, and when asked for permission to search the vehicle, manages to muster up the brain cell in charge of the word yes, and says it...

Rule #1:  If you don't create a situation, there won't be one.

Rule #2: Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is fate, caused by a lack of awareness.

Maybe RI should pay for all this bullshit since they're such a "friend" of the court and all...

jbvtme's picture

never talk to the cops. they are strangers and are not working in your best interests. "what law are you trying to enforce"? and "are you arresting me or am i free to go"? are the two questions allowed. i doubt any court would have issued a search warrant based on the stop, regardless of the tail light issue. it comes down to whether the fruit or the gene pool is poisoned.

COSMOS's picture

So a person can work a job where they have a total misunderstanding of how to do their JOB.  Just wait till that way of thinking permeates to the guys who run our nuclear power plants.

jbvtme's picture

remember, cops have quotas to fulfill. without them there would be no criminal justice industry.

chumbawamba's picture

If the guy hadn't given his consent to the search then this would have turned out very differently.  Never give a cop consent for anything.  Make them get a fucking warrant.

Americans are losing their freedoms because they don't understand what they have and how to protect it.

I am Chumbawamba.

Self-enslavement's picture
Self-enslavement (not verified) chumbawamba Dec 28, 2014 7:35 PM

Cops are all traitors, power trippers, insane, deranged, mentally unstable psychopaths that will do literally ANYTHING for a dollar.

Tall Tom's picture

What makes you think that it has not, little girl?








You demonstrate your youth through your IGNORANCE.


I think you need to read "The Peter Principle"


Here is a summation of the book...the Cliff Notes...


From Wikipedia...


In an organizational structure, the assessment of the potential of an employee for a promotion is often based on their performance in the current job which results eventually in their being promoted to their highest level of competence and potentially then to a role in which they are not competent, referred to as their "level of incompetence". The employee has no chance of further promotion, thus reaching his or her career's ceiling in an organization.


Now the generalized Peter Principle is as follows...


Anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails.


It does help to be LITERATE when posting here.


Literacy is not restricted just to Reading Comprhension ability. It means that you have read volumes upon volumes of books.


The method for success is...TURN OFF THE DAMNED TV SET. With AGE and YOUR TIME INVESTED IN READING you will accomplish that task.


The only thing which I learned at the University was HOW TO READ A BOOK.


Curiously...Just how many Books do you have in you house?


I have over One Thousand Volumes in my Home Library.

Bearwagon's picture

Just a measly one thousand books? You're running low, man!

yrbmegr's picture

Too bad you didn't learn to write at "the University".

Lanka's picture

His post is well written.

DaveyJones's picture 


I love the opening of the opinion's syllabus: " a suspicious vehicle."

I love how they add the phrase that the occupants, passing by, seemed "stiff and nervous"

This reminds me of the classic phrase in criminal procedure land: "furtive movements"

They always do this in written opinions when the evidence is weak

I also have to give credit, as is usually due, to a very poorly written statute.

It is definitely a pandora's box

But this shoud not surprise us in a country where coroporations are citizens, money is speech and everything is the war on terror excpetion  


nmewn's picture

Yes, clearly all that is needed are more lawyers & judges of the caliber of Andrey Vyshinsky and Roland Freisler.

Oh, wait ;-)

DaveyJones's picture

it's pompous, falsely humorous phrases like this that make me puke:


"This Court’s holding does not discourage officers from learning the law"


nmewn's picture

lol...the officers would be wise to learn what the law is and what it is not. What the law is today may not be what the law is tomorrow and there are real life consequences to violating the law of tomorrow ;-)

ljag's picture

Can't the people buy one of those little towns that we occasionally read about being for sale somewhere and make EVERYONE a deputy? Pay them $1 yr. that way we could all claim ignorance, huh?

Just a WAGI(wild ass good idea

Pumpkin's picture

Stoploss, your down votes here are a testimony to the ignorance of the American people (no insult intended, I am ignorant of many things but law is not among them). 


The privilege against self-incrimination is neither accorded to the passive resistant, nor to the person who is ignorant of his rights, nor to one indifferent thereto. It is a FIGHTING clause. It's benefits can be retained only by sustained COMBAT. It cannot be claimed by attorney or solicitor. It is valid only when insisted upon by a BELLIGERENT claimant in person." McAlister vs. Henkel, 201 U.S. 90, 26 S.Ct. 385, 50 L.Ed. 671;


This ignorant man consented to a search.  You can consent to being shot in the gut, if you refuse to file charges.  Complaining about it later will not remove the hole in your gut either.

Tek Kinkreet's picture

It's very naive of you to think he actually gave consent. Most likely the pig just took it regardless of what the guy said. Most likely the cop said, "let me search your vehicle or I'll arrest you, impound your vehicle and search it anyway."

Pumpkin's picture

It makes no difference, did you not read my above post.  The correct answer is 'no, I in no way give any consent to be searched without a warrant'.  You say he may have been threatened to be arrested?  Well what exactly happened?  He got arrested and got how many years?  False imprisonment is no reason to consent to a search, when you know what they will find.  This man was a fool.  He placed no affidavit contesting the consent to be search, because he did consent.  He could have complied under duress and threat of violence.  A whole lot better than consenting.  If a cop searches without warrant and under duress, let him. Or just consent and get what this guy got.  BTW, drug laws are base on contraband.  Everyone should know what that means, but I am guessing you do not.

Tek Kinkreet's picture

I speak from first hand experience, do you? Lovely theory you have there though.

Pumpkin's picture

Ah, busted for contraband.  Shouldn't have had any contraband.

Tek Kinkreet's picture

The friend I was with actually, but yeah, so I know the "he gave consent" is bullshit.

shovelhead's picture

No duh. All Amicus briefs are to persuade the Court. Where is it stated otherwise?

The post's title is accurate.

Milestones's picture

I would suggest you look at the fly leaf of that book, The 9th edition which in my library is a paperback book. Fortunately I asked to see the old hardbook version and briefly compared them. In short, much of what is in the old hardbound edition is DELETED in the "new abridged book.

In short, our lawbooks are being redone to more closly alien with our courts "new reality. Our history is now going to be the new abdriged truth or our crumbling nation. Time to start drawing some line in the sand beyond which this sick society will not go.

We are well past the turning of an eye. The time is near brother.                    Milestones

Milestones's picture

I would suggest you look at the fly leaf of that book, The 9th edition which in my library is a paperback book. Fortunately I asked to see the old hardbook version and briefly compared them. In short, much of what is in the old hardbound edition is DELETED in the "new abridged book.

In short, our lawbooks are being redone to more closly alien with our courts "new reality. Our history is now going to be the new abdriged truth or our crumbling nation. Time to start drawing some line in the sand beyond which this sick society will not go.

We are well past the turning of an eye. The time is near brother.                    Milestones

El Vaquero's picture


The hardest part for me is knowing everything my ancestors fought and worked to build was for nothing.

I come from a long line of Dudley Do-Rights who had no idea their blood and sweat was going to recreate what they left behind.

And would you fight for liberty, even knowing that it would not last?  I have come to the conclusion that any system, (yes, even anarcho-capitalism) is prone to being taken over by control freaks, sociopaths, narcissists, etc... given enough time.  I think that Thomas Jefferson understood this very well, as probably did most of the founders.  Hence the 2nd amendment, which was not worded strongly enough.  It should read more along the lines of "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of individual persons to keep and bear arms for hunting, self defense, the overthrow of a tyrannical domestic government or any other lawful purpose shall not be infringed."


There will be an awakening in this country, and it will not be pleasant or pretty for anybody, but we may have a chance to set things straight.  There is an undercurrent of anger here.  Most who feel it do not really understand it and certainly cannot articulate it, but they know something is wrong.  The American people are going to be like the battered wife who kept on saying "but he LOVES me," before snapping one day and shooting her husband in the dick, chest and head. 

SWRichmond's picture

Taken in the context of the times, the meaning of the Second Amendment is startlingly clear.  You should spend some time reading contemporary documents, discussions and debates.  The purpose of the Constitution was to restrain government, and the meaning of the Second Amendment is quite obviously to recognize the average person's pre-existing right to defense of self, family, and liberty.

It was left to government to defend these rights, and for the people to remain aware and engaged enough to be ever watchful and in control of their government, a government that was never intended to be their masters.

"When the people fear government, there is tyranny.  When the government fears the people, there is liberty."  What could be clearer than that?  Government soon began its encroachment, and the traitor Lincoln accelerated and finished the work, setting a precedent of using the military to change a government he didn't like.

El Vaquero's picture

The meaning of the 2nd amendment is exceedingly clear to those who understand tyranny.  Those who wish to be tyrants will lie and twist the words to suit their own purposes.  Give them nothing, for they will take more than you give.  As for everybody else, convince them that they can be safe and protected, and they'll agree to all manners of bullshit, even while they are not protected in reality.  Perception of the masses.

Buckaroo Banzai's picture

This case is an absolute nothingburger. How did everyone miss the most important part of the story?

"Nevertheless, operating under a mistaken understanding of the law, during the course of the stop, the officer asked for permission to search the car. Nicholas Heien, the owner of the vehicle, granted his consent to a search."

This is all a giant smokescreen. Who gives a fuck why the guy was stopped? It's not material. An officer can only search if he has probable cause; barring that, he must have consent. Once the guy gave consent, this case suddenly had nothing to do with whether the policeman knew the law about taillights, or not.

NEVER EVER EVER give consent to any police officer to search your person, vehicle, or property. This idiot broke the first rule of involuntary search and seizure; he volunteered to the search!!

Your tipoff that this case is a bunch of bullshit should have been that Sotomayer was the only dissenting vote. Since when is she one of the "good guys"?

ACP's picture

I totally agree with you about the fact that the guy shouldn't have consented to a search, but my concern is that the Supreme Court, with this ruling, effectively created a "protected class", where .GOV can be excused for minor violations of the law, whereas the rest of the populace isn't.

Every new loophole like this creates yet another way for the government to manipulate their way into a specific outcome.

Buckaroo Banzai's picture

The court decided that voluntarily giving up your rights trumps a policeman's ignorance of the law.

I honestly can't disagree with that logic.

If the cop had NOT asked for permission, and acted on probable cause to search the vehicle, then that would be a different story. My guess is, the court would have ruled against the cop in that scenario.

ACP's picture

I'd hope so, being that this was a narrow set of circumstances. It just really bothers me because when you give the .GOV an inch, they'll take a mile. Always.

Tall Tom's picture

When a cop asks permission then that is prima facie evidence that he has NO PROBABLE CAUSE.


If he has probable cause then he needs to get a warrant. But...but...he does not have any...




The only correct response is, "No sir. You may not search.  Am I free to go?"

El Vaquero's picture

It effectively does away with the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, and I happen to agree with that doctrine.  Pull somebody over for something that you know is BS, lie and claim that you thought that the law read in such a way that the stop was justified and then act like officer psycho to get the person to let you search their car and BAM!  You really think that people who have cocaine in the car want to let an officer search that car?  Fuck no!  Ignorance + induced fear by cops gets around the constitution all the time.  SCOTUS decisions are often based on the erroneous assumption that the government actors will be good and virtuous, that they would never lie.  It's bullshit.  Yes, you should remember "I do not consent to any searches," and yes, especially if you can do clandestinely, you should record the interaction, and no, you should not give into the intimidation, but cops have been put onto a pedestal.  They don't get indicted when they should.  They don't get convicted when they should.  Hell, one cop here racked a guy so hard that he had to have a testicle removed and the fucking police chief thinks that a 240 day suspension of his certification is punishment enough.  The guy was guilty of not complying with what is quite possibly not a lawful order and he lost a nut, and the so called non-compliance was over a period of a few seconds at a traffic stop.  If I did that to somebody, I'd be on the hook for felony aggravated battery.  If you want to push the "I don't consent to any searches" bit and the "Am I being detained bit," you need to understand that most of the time, they'll try to find another way to fuck you, but every once in a while, you might encounter officer roid rage who will put you in a position where it is you or him.  I understand that, so I will do it, but your average sheep?  They're fucked.

shovelhead's picture

Probable cause? Lol.

"The defendant was swerving in his lane."

"I detected the smell of marijuana."

"The defendant seemed excessively nervous."

Etc. etc....

There's your probable cause and he's searching your vehicle.

If he asks permission to search, This is a prima facie admission that he has no probable cause because if he will claim any of the above, he doesn't need permission to search and will do so.

Most judges will accept the cops testimony without question and rule the search legal.

This guy was a moron to voluntarily let the cop search his car.

El Vaquero's picture

That is why you take video of the encounter if possible.  Cops lie all the time in their reports.  Without the video evidence, the jury will believe the cop over you.  With video evidence, you can fuck the cop.  The technology is ubiquitous, so for most people, there is no excuse. 

detached.amusement's picture

That's all well and good, but considering that  a murder by cop was just caught on tape and the prosecutor was able to manipulate the grand jury to such an extent so as not to even return an indictment, it doesnt look that great for the citizen.   They set this up to fuck you, so they are going to try to fuck you, whether you have the fucking on tape or not it really winds up being immaterial if there is enough interest from high enough.

fnord's picture

"The court decided that voluntarily giving up your rights trumps a policeman's ignorance of the law."

Except from everything I've read it didn't decide that. Nothing I can find in the court's opinion references whether consent to a search mattered in the least to their decision. Pages 8-14 (of the pdf, 5-11 of the court's opinion) are the most pertinent.

If it were the case that the court decided there was consent to the search and that was all that mattered, all they would have needed to say was this:

"As the text indicates and we have repeatedly affirmed, “the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is ‘reasonableness.’ ” Riley v. California , 573 U. S. ___, ___ (2014) (slip op., at 5) (some internal quotation marks omitted). To be reasonable is not to be perfect, and so the Fourth Amendment allows for some mistakes on the part of government officials, giving them “fair leeway for enforcing the law in the community’s protection.” Brinegar v. United States , 338 U. S. 160, 176 (1949). We have recognized that searches and seizures based on mistakes of fact can be reasonable. The warrantless search of a home, for instance, is reasonable if undertaken with the consent of a resident, and remains lawful when officers obtain the consent of someone who reasonably appears to be but is not in fact a resident. See Illinois v. Rodriguez , 497 U. S. 177, 183–186 (1990). By the same token, if officers with probable cause to arrest a suspect mistakenly arrest an individual matching the suspect’s description, neither the seizure nor an accompanying search of the arrestee would be unlawful. See Hill v. California, 401 U. S. 797, 802–805 (1971). The limit is that “the mistakes must be those of reasonable men.” Brinegar , supra, at 176"

But they don't. They continue with opinions stating that state mistakes of facts and mistaken understandings of law provide probable cause, thus that if a warrant had been issued for the search they likely would have still considered the search reasonable.

"But reasonable men make mistakes of law, too, and such mistakes are no less compatible with the concept of reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion arises from the combination of an officer’s understanding of the facts and his understanding of the relevant law. The officer may be reasonably mistaken on either ground. Whether the facts turn out to be not what was thought, or the law turns out to be not what was thought, the result is the same: the facts are outside the scope of the law. There is no reason, under the text of the Fourth Amendment or our precedents, why this same result should be acceptable when reached by way of a reasonable mistake of fact, but not when reached by way of a similarly reasonable mistake of law."

"This holding—that reasonable mistakes of law, like those of fact, would justify certificates of probable cause—was reiterated in a number of 19th-century decisions"

"But that literally marginal discussion does not displace our express holding that the arrest was constitutionally valid because the officers had probable cause."

"A traffic stop for a suspected violation of law is a “seizure” of the occupants of the vehicle and therefore must be conducted in accordance with the Fourth Amendment. Brendlin v. California, 551 U. S. 249, 255–259 (2007). All parties agree that to justify this type of seizure, officers need only “reasonable suspicion”—that is, “a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped” of breaking the law"


This would have been far more interesting without consent to the search, but I'm pretty sure from reading the decision that they'd have said the same.