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Faculty Blog: Utah v. Strieff: The Court Reminds Us That Constitutional Privacy is Essentially Meaningless

By: Lawrence M. Friedman  The U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from pursuing its policy goals in ways that conflict with individual rights protections—except, as the Supreme Court reminds us in its decision in Utah v. Strieff, where the protection of privacy under the Fourth Amendment is concerned. The remedy for a Fourth Amendment violation is exclusion of the evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search or seizure. Deterrence of governmental misconduct has been the animating principle of the exclusionary rule for decades (though it was originally just one of several rationales), and the nature of the Court’s cost-benefit deterrence analysis has led it, time and again, to conclude that the costs of suppression outweigh any potentially beneficial deterrent effect. As Justice Clarence Thomas explains in the opening paragraph of his opinion for the majority in Strieff, “even when there is a Fourth Amendment violation, [the] exclusionary rule does not apply when the costs of exclusion outweigh its deterrent benefits.”