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Supreme Court Dumps Tolentino Case

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The US Supreme Court today "dismissed as improvidently granted" the Fourth Amendment case of Tolentino v. New York, argued last week.  CJLF's brief in the case, written by Christine Dowling, is here.

The case involved the question of whether a driver's DMV record, indicating ten suspensions of his license, can be suppressed on the ground that the police did not have sufficient cause to stop him.

So why did the Court drop the case?

One of the things that bothered me about this case from the beginning is that the defendant was trying to suppress the wrong item.  Early in the proceedings, he moved to suppress both the police officer's identification of him as the driver and the DMV records.  But the trial court never ruled on the first point, and the defendant didn't press it in subsequent reviews.

From the argument, it is apparent that this bothered Justice Scalia also.  If the stop were illegal (something never adjudicated), then any observations after the stop would be suppressible.  The DA was ready with an answer that any such claim is now defaulted as a matter of state law.

So the Court might have said that the DMV records are not suppressible but the identification might have been except we are not really sure if that argument is waived because defendant didn't argue it in the state appellate courts.  Well, that would be messy.

That's my best guess as to the reason for the "DIG."  We will never really know.

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I realize that it's easy to after the fact that I saw it coming. But with that said, I had a nagging feeling it would be DIG'd after reading the argument. Justice Scalia (and others to a lesser extent) hit several times on the fact that the question was really only half of a question and any answer would just cause more confusion rather than clarity. I think you nailed it pretty well with the guess. Of course if we ever know for sure, it won't be for decades when someone's papers are released.

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