A Fourteenth Amendment Argument for Challenging a Police Officer’s “Reasonable Mistake of Law”

Camden Civil Rights Project

In Heien v. North Carolina135 S.Ct. 530 (2014), the U.S. Supreme Court has issued forth its new edict asserting the Fourth Amendment is not disturbed if a constitutional deprivation occurs because of a police officer’s reasonable mistake of the law. This creates a scheme where divergent interpretations of the same statute may produce unequal outcomes, which may ultimately prove to be untenable under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Heien stems from a routine traffic stop which escalated into a felony drug arrest after a law enforcement officer discovered cocaine in the defendant’s vehicle. The officer’s pretext for the stop was that he  believed state law prohibited driving a vehicle with a broken brake light. However, the statute in question only requires one working brake light. During the stop, the drugs were discovered after the defendant granted the officer consent to search…

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