On October 6th, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on another
interesting Fourth Amendment, search and seizure issue that could have
an effect on many Minnesota criminal cases. The criminal defense bar will
be watching this one closely.
The question is whether a police officer’s mistake of law can provide
the individualized suspicion that the Fourth Amendment requires for a
(Heien v. North Carolina, 366 N.C. 271 (2012), cert. granted, 134 S.Ct.
1872 (2014).) In
Heien, the police stopped Maynor Javier Vasquez because one of the brake lights
on his vehicle was not working. The officer mistakenly believed that under
North Carolina law a car must have two working brake lights. The car was
searched, and drugs were found. The issue is whether the search was constitutional
in light of the fact that it followed a stop based on the police officer’s
mistaken understanding of the law.
This little talked about case could have monumental consequences, but,
like many critical Fourth Amendment search and seizure cases, it is somehow
flying under the radar. This case provides the Court another opportunity
to stop the deterioration of Fourth Amendment rights that we have observed
in post 9/11 America. On the other hand, if decided the other way, this
case will officially signal the death of the Fourth Amendment right to
be free of unreasonable searches and seizures (a right many believe became
a legal fiction long ago). If the police do not have to adhere to at least
a bare minimum standard of knowing what is illegal and what isn’t,
what will our “criminal justice” system look like then?
For a further breakdown of the case, visit
Or, to listen to oral arguments from the case,
Audio comes from HEIEN v. NORTH CAROLINA, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent
College of Law,http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2014/2014_13_604 (last
visited October 23, 2014).
Click here to read the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ (NACDL)
Amicus Brief, arguing in favor of Heien.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution applies to searches
and seizures in Minnesota and every other state in the country. If you
believe your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated, an experienced
Minnesota criminal defense attorney can help you protect your rights.
Contact the Minneapolis, MN criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office
of Brockton D. Hunter, P.A.