Supreme Court Hears Arguments On Whether the Police Can Stop Your Car Based on a Law That They Were Mistaken About

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in a case that asks whether a police officer’s mistake of law can justify a traffic stop and a car search in which illegal drugs were found. Stanford law professor Jeffrey Fisher represented the car owner, Nicholas Heien, who was traveling with a friend when the car was pulled over. The officer believed North Carolina law required two working brake lights; the law actually required a “stop lamp.” Heien consented to the vehicle search. The Associated Press and’s Hit & Run blog have reports on the oral arguments. “In a country dedicated to the rule of law,” Fisher told the justices, “governmental officers should be presumed to know the law at least as well as the citizens.” Arguing for the state of North Carolina, Senior Deputy Attorney General Robert Montgomery said police officers don’t have to be perfect, according to the AP account. “All that is required is that a police officer have a reasonable view of the facts and apply those facts to a reasonable understanding of the law,” he said. An argument preview by the Atlantic notes the arrest was made in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, the hometown of actor Andy Griffith, who played the sheriff in fictional Mayberry, North Carolina.  The case is Heien v. North Carolina.

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Ray Lopez has practiced since 1990, with prior experience as a Hillsborough County assistant State attorney and lawyer for the Tampa Police Department. He handles all criminal charges, from traffic violations and misdemeanors to serious felonies and federal drug charges. He practices in all state and federal courts of the Tampa Bay area and throughout Florida, as well as criminal appeals, juvenile court, administrative hearings, and civil forfeiture proceedings.

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