In December 2006, South Salt Lake police officer Douglas Fackrell was checking out an anonymous tip that a house was being used for drug sales. He watched the house for about three hours over the course of a week.
Fackrell decided he would question the next person he saw leave the house, which was Strieff. Fackrell explained his purposes and asked Strieff for identification. He called in the information and found there was a warrant for Strieff's arrest on a minor traffic violation. He arrested Strieff, searched him and found drugs.
The court voted 5 to 3 to reverse a decision of the Utah Supreme Court that threw out the drug possession evidence seized from Edward Strieff in 2006. The SCOTUS majority agreed Fackrell did not have reasonable suspicion to stop Strieff as he exited a house being watched for drug activity. But once Fackrell radioed in and found that there was an outstanding warrant on Strieff for a traffic violation, he was able to arrest and search him, and the discovery of the drugs was legitimate, the justices ruled.
“While Officer Fackrell’s decision to initiate the stop was mistaken, his conduct thereafter was lawful,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority. He said the intervening discovery of the warrant meant the search that discovered the drugs was allowed.
Or, as Sotomayor stated the dissent: “By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time,” Sotomayor wrote. “It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”