The Supreme Court ruled Monday that evidence of a crime may be used against a defendant even if the police did something wrong or illegal in obtaining it.
The justices voted 5-3 to reinstate the drug-related convictions of a Utah man.
The ruling comes in a case in which a police detective illegally stopped defendant Joseph Edward Strieff on the streets of South Salt Lake City, Utah. A name check revealed an outstanding warrant for Strieff.
Strieff was placed under arrest and searched. He was carrying methamphetamine.
Justice Clarence Thomas said for the court that the officer's actions were not a flagrant violation of the law.
But Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in dissent that the decision is a blow to constitutional rights.
"The court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer's violation of your Fourth Amendment rights," Sotomayor wrote, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Elena Kagan filed a separate dissent.
The fourth member of the court's liberal wing, Justice Stephen Breyer, joined the four conservatives to form a majority on the eight-justice court.