December 11, 2014 Articles

Traffic Stops Based on Mistake of Law: Are They Constitutional?

In Heien v. North Carolina, the Supreme Court could vastly expand police officers' discretion.

By LaKeisha R. Randall

You’ve heard the age-old adage: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. The law imputes knowledge of all laws to all persons within its jurisdiction, and they are equally susceptible to criminal punishment and civil liability. Seems fair, right? Well, what if a police officer misinterprets the law—should the officer be able to reasonably rely on that interpretation to justify a traffic stop or arrest?

In Heien v. North Carolina, No. 13-604, the first oral argument of the term, the U.S. Supreme Court considered “whether a police officer’s mistake of law can provide the individualized suspicion that the Fourth Amendment requires to justify a traffic stop.”

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