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Major Cases

The following cases are landmark cases for law enforcement. They significantly affected the way police conduct themselves during the course of their employment.
Click on the case titles to link to the full case decision.

Carroll v. U.S., 267 U.S. 132 (1925)-Police may conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle stopped on traffic if there is probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband or evidence.

Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961)-The US Supreme Court applied the "exclusionary rule" to the states. Any evidence illegally obtained by the government cannot be used in court against the accused.

Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963)-Florida law only provided counsel for indigent defendants in capital cases. The USSC ruled that an indigent defendant has a right to court appointed counsel in non-capital cases as well as capital cases.

Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)-The Miranda case is a very important case to law enforcement. The United States Supreme Court established an irrebuttable presumption that a statement is involuntary if made during a custodial interrogation without the "Miranda Warnings" given. The warning requirements only apply when a person is in custody and interrogated. In this case, "custody" is an arrest or when freedom   is significantly deprived to be equivalent to an arrest. "Interrogation" is the use of words or actions to elicit an incriminating response from an average person.

In Re Gault, 387 US 1 (1967)-The US Supreme Court in this case established that juveniles have several rights that adults have. 1) Due process requires adequate and timely notice. 2) There is right to counsel. 3) The privilege against self incrimination applies. 4) The juvenile has a right to a hearing with sworn testimony subject to the opportunity for cross-examination.

Terry v. Ohio, 392 US 1(1968)-An officer can briefly detain a person, based upon reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, long enough to dispel the suspicion or to allow it to rise to the level of probable cause for an arrest. The officer is also permitted to do a limited "frisk" search of the person without a warrant. Before the officer can frisk search the subject, he must:

  1. Have articulable facts that the person could be armed with a weapon.
  2. Limit the search to pat searching the outer garments of the suspect to feel for objects that might be weapons.
  3. Only reach inside the clothing after feeling such objects.

Chimel v. California, 395 US 752 (1969)-The arrest of a person in his home does not allow the warrantless search of the whole house incident to arrest.

Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985)-The use of deadly force to stop a fleeing felon is not justified unless it is necessary to prevent the escape, and it complies with the following requirements. The officer has to have probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.

Whren v. U.S., 517 US 806 (1996)-Through the late 1980's and into the 1990's courts were embracing the idea that an officer's subjective reasons for making a traffic stop should be considered when ruling on the validity of seizures. If the court finds that an officer's subjective reasons for making the stop was for anything other than the initial traffic offense, and that reason lacks probable cause or reasonable suspicion, the court would dismiss the charges. The U.S. Supreme Court finally addressed these types of rulings in the Whren case. The court ruled that the objective not subjective reasons for making traffic stops should be considered. An officer's intent or motivation to make a traffic stop is not relevant to the Fourth Amendment standard of "reasonableness".

US v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266 (2002)-Reasonable Suspicion-The courts should not examine each factor adding up to reasonable suspicion individually, but that they evaluate how convincingly the factors fit together into a cohesive, convincing picture of illegal conduct. In Arvizu, the Court rejected what it called a "divide-and-conquer analysis," noting that reasonable suspicion may exist even if "each observation" is "susceptible to an innocent explanation."

Gonzales v. Oregon, 000 US 04-623 (2006)-Held: The CSA does not allow the Attorney General to prohibit doctors from prescribing regulated drugs for use in physician-assisted suicide under state law permitting the procedure.

District of Columbia v. Heller, No. 07-290 (2008)-1. The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. 2. Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. 3. The handgun ban and the trigger-lock requirement (as applied to self-defense) violate the Second Amendment.

Kennedy v. Louisiana 07-343 (2008)-The Eighth Amendment bars the execution of a child rapist where the crime did not result, and was not intended to result, in the victim’s death. The punishment must be proportional to the seriousness of the crime.

McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025 (2010)-The Second Amendment of the Constitution right to have a handgun in the home for self-protection applies to the states. See District of Columbia v. Heller.