99 Problems but the Fourth Amendment Ain’t One

When my best friend was studying for his exam for a police procedure law school class, he asked me to give him some hypothetical situations for him to analyze. Of course, the first thing that came to mind was Jay-Z’s classic traffic stop situation in 99 Problems. Apparently, I am not the only one to think that this case would be useful for understanding legal complexities of police procedure. Scatterplot just linked to a cute 2012 article in the St. Louis Law Review by Caleb Mason: JAY-Z’S 99 PROBLEMS, VERSE 2: A CLOSE READING WITH FOURTH AMENDMENT GUIDANCE FOR COPS AND PERPS. Here’s a sample of the analysis:

“In my rearview mirror… I got two choices …” The calculation Jay-Z has to make is whether, knowing that the car contains concealed contraband, he’s better off trying to flee or hoping that the police won’t find the drugs during the stop. This may be the hardest choice perps face (until they have to decide whether or not to cooperate), but there’s only one answer: you are always better off having drugs found on you in a potentially illegal search than you are fleeing from a potentially illegal search and getting caught. The flight will provide an independent basis for chasing and arresting you, and the inadequacy of the quantum of suspicion supporting the initial attempted seizure will not taint the contraband discovered if there is an intervening flight. Law students: practice explaining the preceding sentence to a layperson. Smugglers, repeat after me: you have to eat the bust, and fight it in court.

Important life lessons, to be sure.

EDIT: After finishing the essay, I actually learned two important things. The first is that Jay-Z is slightly wrong: the cop does not need a warrant to search his trunk or glove compartment, but the cop does need probable cause (which he likely does not have): “If this Essay serves no other purpose, I hope it serves to debunk, for any readers who persist in believing it, the myth that locking your trunk will keep the cops from searching it. … in any vehicle stop, the officers may search the entire car, without consent, if they develop probable cause to believe that car contains, say, drugs.”

The second, far more important, thing is that “the bitch” Jay-Z refers to is apparently the police dog that is not present at the stop. Footnote 91, “JAY-Z, supra note 3, at 61 (“In this verse, the bitch is a female dog, the K-9 cop coming to sniff the ride.”); Id. at 56 (“At no point in the song am I talking about a girl.”).” If a cop delays someone simply to wait for a K-9 unit without probable cause, that constitutes an illegal delay, and any contraband discovered in the search may be ruled inadmissible. So, the fact that the cop didn’t already have a K-9 with him when he stopped Jay-Z is actually legally and practically relevant, and justifies Jay-Z’s claim that he has 99 problems but “a bitch ain’t one.”

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3 Comments

  1. Max

     /  July 11, 2012

    I haven’t read the article yet (will this weekend), but thank you for posting the part about locking the trunk. That line always bothered me.
    Additionally, considering the fact that a searching the admittedly raw trunk would require no warrant, but mere probable cause (and considering that, if memory serves, refusal to consent to a search can be a factor used to establish probable cause to search), the title of your post strikes me as a bit off. In fact, the 4th amendment, and Mr. Z’s misunderstanding of it, appears to be a problem.
    (and thank you for sharing).

  2. jcb

     /  July 14, 2012

    Silly but DELIGHTFUL! man I should keep up with academic blogs better. does the original article go into the minutiae of “going fifty-five in a fifty-four”, esp. when “i’m young and i’m black and my hat’s real low”?

  3. Anonymous

     /  July 17, 2012

    “This may be the hardest choice perps face (until they have to decide whether or not to cooperate), but there’s only one answer: you are always better off having drugs found on you in a potentially illegal search than you are fleeing from a potentially illegal search and getting caught. ”

    Not sure I understand this quote – some perps manage to escape the police. The interesting question is: Is that option worth the risk? This question is not adressed at all in the quote.