Ignorance of the Law is Not an Excuse, Unless You’re a Cop

How many times have you heard petty authoritarians and cops (but I repeat myself) say “Ignorance of the law is not an excuse”? What they really mean is that ignorance of the law is not an excuse unless you’re a cop. Cops periodically enforce nonexistent laws. A popular phrase relating to this issue is that “You can be the rap but you can’t beat the ride.” Even if a cop is enforcing a fictitious law you as an individual have little recourse. But what happens when a cop enforcing a nonexistent law finds evidence that you’re breaking an existing law? According to the Nazgûl, err, the Supreme Court it means you’re going to be a UNICOR slave for a few years:

At issue in Heien v. North Carolina was a 2009 traffic stop for a single busted brake light that led to the discovery of illegal drugs inside the vehicle. According to state law at the time, however, motor vehicles were required only to have “a stop lamp,” meaning that the officer did not have a lawful reason for the initial traffic stop because it was not a crime to drive around with a single busted brake light. Did that stop therefore violate the 4th Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure? Writing today for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts held that it did not. “Because the officer’s mistake about the brake-light law was reasonable,” Roberts declared, “the stop in this case was lawful under the Fourth Amendment.”

Roberts’ opinion was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, and Elena Kagan. Writing alone in dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor criticized her colleagues for giving the police far too much leeway.

Since the Constitution gives the Supreme Court a monopoly on interpreting the Constitution this decision means that charges stemming from cops enforcing nonexistent laws is constitutional. The Fourth Amendment, once again, proves to be ineffective at protecting our supposed right to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure. But that’s just par for the statist course.