Roberts in Action

by Shannen W. Coffin

Great quote from a John Roberts’s dissent in a case issued today. The majority had reversed a trial court’s decision not to suppress evidence of a handgun found in a trunk because the court concluded that there was no probable cause to search the trunk. Roberts dissented, reasoning that where a car stopped for a non-working license plate light, that ended up having stolen tags and no registration, there might just be reason to search the trunk because maybe, just maybe, there would be some indication in the trunk that the car was stolen (something identifying the owners or the real license plates).

So it is reasonable for police to search the trunk, says Roberts, when in their past experience, they’ve found such contraband there before. The criminal defendant told the cops that the car was his girlfriend’s, which drew this line from Roberts: “Sometimes a car being driven by an unlicensed driver, with no registration and stolen tags, really does belong to the drivers friend, and sometimes dogs do eat homework, but in neither case is it reasonable to insist on checking out the story before taking other appropriate action.”

Another great quote same case: “I wholeheartedly subscribe to the sentiments expressed in the concurring opinion about the Fourth Amendment’s place among our most prized freedoms. But sentiments do not decide cases; facts and the law do.”

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