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Supreme Court will consider cops' ignorance of the law in Heien v. North Carolina




A U.S. Capitol Police officer stops a car on East Capitol Street in Washington, DC on November 19, 2004. The checkpoints around the U.S. Capitol are part of a temporary security perimeter that was set up around the U.S. Capitol in August.
A U.S. Capitol Police officer stops a car on East Capitol Street in Washington, DC on November 19, 2004. The checkpoints around the U.S. Capitol are part of a temporary security perimeter that was set up around the U.S. Capitol in August.
Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images

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Today the Supreme Court justices granted hearings to eleven new cases for this term. In a religious discrimination dispute, the Court will hear the case of a young Muslim woman denied a job at Abercrombie & Fitch because she wore a headscarf. The court will also tackle a fair housing case from Texas and step into an Arizona fight over congressional redistricting. The justices have yet to grant a same-sex marriage case, but could still do so.

This Monday, in the first oral arguments of the year, is a fascinating Fourth Amendment case. In 2009, Nicholas Heien was driving with a broken taillight in North Carolina when he was stopped by police who mistakenly believed state law required two working taillights. The police then searched the car, with the permission of Heien, and found cocaine. At his trial, Heien asked to suppress the evidence arguing the officer never had reasonable suspicion to pull over the car.

Should the police be rewarded for ignorance of the law in this case? Or, because officers have a special interest in traffic safety, did the police make a good-faith mistake? Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer do not rule predictably for and against law enforcement, respectively. How could that affect this case?

Guest: 

Greg Stohr, Supreme Court reporter for Bloomberg News; @GregStohr

Ilya Shapiro, Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute and Editor-in-Chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review; Shapiro joined an amicus brief filed with the Court in support of the petitioner, Heien. @ishapiro

Karen Kruger, Attorney with Funk and Bolton law firm based in Baltimore, Maryland; General Chair of the Legal Officers Section of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.