Reasonableness as a Rule: A Paean to Justice O'Connor's Dissent in Atwater v. City of Lago Vista
Mississippi Law Journal, Vol. 79, p. 115, 2009
33 Pages Posted: 22 May 2010 Last revised: 30 Jun 2015
Date Written: April 30, 2010
This paper, part of a symposium dedicated to "great" Fourth Amendment dissents, examines Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's dissent in Atwater v. City of Lago Vista (2001), where by a 5-4 vote the Court upheld the constitutionality of warrantless police arrests for non-breach of the peace, fine-only offenses. In addition to rightfully condemning the majority's decision to equate probable cause with constitutional reasonableness, in principle, Justice O'Connor presciently recognized the numerous liberty and privacy-restricting consequences of the outcome for the "everyday lives of Americans." Atwater, combined with decisions issued before and after it, including Whren v. United States, Devenpeck v. Alford, and Virginia v. Moore, has afforded police historically unprecedented discretionary authority, examples of which are surveyed in the paper.
Keywords: Fourth Amendment, police discretion, arrest, search and seizure, seatbelt
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