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Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U.S. ___ (2014)

Justia Opinion Summary
Following a suspicious vehicle, Sergeant Darisse noticed that only one of the brake lights was working and pulled the driver over. While issuing a warning ticket for the broken light, Darisse became suspicious of the actions of the occupants and their answers to his questions. Heien, the car's owner, gave Darisse consent to search the vehicle. Darisse found cocaine. Heien was arrested and charged with attempted trafficking. The trial court denied Heien's motion to suppress, concluding that the faulty light gave Darisse reasonable suspicion for the stop. The North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed, holding that N. C. Gen. Stat. 20-129(g), requires only a single lamp, which Heien's vehicle had, so that the justification for the stop was objectively unreasonable. Reversing, the state Supreme Court held that Darisse's mistake was reasonable. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed. The Fourth Amendment requires government officials to act reasonably, not perfectly. Reasonable suspicion arises from an understanding of both the facts and the law. Whether an officer is reasonably mistaken about the one or the other, the result is the same. Because the Fourth Amendment tolerates only objectively reasonable mistakes, an officer gains no advantage by "Ignorance of the law." The vehicle code's wording made it objectively reasonable to think that a faulty brake light constituted a violation.

Timothy E. Zerillo has been included in every edition of New England Super Lawyers since 2010, for his Super Lawyers page, go to http://www.superlawyers.com/maine/lawyer/Timothy-E-Zerillo/ab011be9-fc96-44e9-ad28-3956da48c1b4.html

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