Fourth Amendment - Search and Seizure - Reasonable Mistake of Law - Heien v. North Carolina
10 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2016
Date Written: 2015
The Supreme Court has long held that a police officer’s reasonable mistake of fact may give rise to a lawful search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment. But where an officer acts upon a reasonable mistake of law, lower courts have differed on whether the corresponding search or seizure encroaches upon constitutional rights. Last Term, in Heien v. North Carolina, the Supreme Court held that a police officer’s reasonable mistake of law may give rise to the reasonable suspicion needed to justify a traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment. Mindful that an open-ended “reasonableness” test might sow confusion — or worse, abuse — both the majority and concurrence sought to cabin the reasonable-mistake-of-law test with additional qualifiers. Such qualifiers allay some but not all concerns over what the Heien test means for judicial administrability and police discretion.
Keywords: Fourth Amendment; Search and Seizure; Criminal Procedure; Supreme Court
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