Lazy, Incompetent Bureaucrats Will Celebrate the Heien Decision for Years

The U.S. Supreme Court on December 15 ruled in Heien v. North Carolina that the Fourth Amendment allows for certain mistakes of law by the police in making stops of automobiles.

Sergeant Matt Darisse pulled over Nicholas Heien to issue a warning ticket for a broken brake light, although North Carolina law requires only a single lamp, which Heien had.  During the stop, Heien gave consent to search the car, and Sergeant Darisse found cocaine.

Heien later claimed the justification of the stop was objectively unreasonable because it was based on the officer’s mistake of law, and should not be allowed under the Fourth Amendment.  A number of conservative organizations filed amicus briefs supporting Heien.

The line from Chief Justice Robert’s majority opinion in the Heien case that pro-liberty folks just know will come back like Freddie Krueger reads: “To be reasonable is not to be perfect, and so the Fourth Amendment allows for some mistakes on the part of government officials, giving them ‘fair leeway for enforcing the law in the community’s protection.’”

Government lawyers right now are already smacking their lips, thinking that this line is license for incompetence far beyond the mistake of law made by the North Carolina police officer, and in more circumstances than just those involving the Fourth Amendment.

Any lawyer or litigant who has ever been in litigation against nearly any government body knows how government lawyers contort sentences from court opinions into unreasonable positions.

We also see statist judges stretch those lines far from constitutional principles to create errors of law compounded through precedent.

Justice Sotomayor was the lone dissenter in this case.  She wrote, “This result is bad for citizens, who need to know their rights and responsibilities, and it is bad for police, who would benefit from clearer direction.”

Justice Sotomayor also wrote, “One is left to wonder ... why an innocent citizen should be made to shoulder the burden of being seized whenever the law may be susceptible to an interpretive question.”

In Heien the court has lowered the bar of expectations for the government.  Those of us who are pro-police have every reason to be upset.  The majority opinion will be abused by statist bureaucrats at a time when too many people already have reason to fear their law-breaking government.

If you experience technical problems, please write to