How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways, to paraphrase the bard (happy 450th, you old sod; don’t forget what they say: If others have their will, Ann hath a way).
State v. Heien, (or Heien v. North Carolina now that the SCOTUS has agreed to hear it) is a horrible case. I hate this case (I kind of love it — it’s 4th amendment case). I hate what it could mean for us. I hate that such an important issue is before this US Supreme Court; I hate that the North Carolina Supreme Court decided to overrule the NC Court of Appeals, and bypass precedent and law to come to its labored and terrible decision.
I hate the decision, at the trial level, of the Superior Court judge who in some ways might be the most important player in this whole messy affair. Had he got it right, we might not be where we are right now. And where we are right now is on the brink of a fundamental shift in our notion of the sanctity of the rule of law. This Superior Court judge, for whatever reason, chose to ignore both precedent and statute when he ruled that a mistake of law, when reasonable, excused an illegal stop on the basis of the policeman’s good faith belief that what he saw (only one brake light working) was a violation of the law when in fact it wasn’t. In “one fell swoop” (MacBeth), this North Carolina Superior Court judge decided that, for the first time in our State, a policeman’s mistake of law would justify a Fourth Amendment seizure, and, that there existed a good faith exception to the exclusionary rule. And all this, despite the existence of State v. Carter (look it up), which explicitly rejects the good faith exception rule that excuses a policeman’s illegal behavior in NC, but which the legislature bizarrely requested of the North Carolina Supreme Court in its re-writing of 15A-974. (read the dissent in Heien and see my “Cops’ Good faith ..” blog from 2011).
Who knows what this judge was thinking? To speculate (as a lawyer) might get me in trouble. But as a result of this local judge’s radical departure from law, the whole country runs the risk of the law now being as he interpreted it.
And how did he interpret it? (Let’s see if I can condense this into a pithy, yet accurate, short-winded version of his decision): Ignorance of the law is no excuse … unless you’re a cop.
The link below is the Petition for Certiorari in the Heien case. Read it.
I’m cheering these champions of freedom on.