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Did the Chief Justice miss his calling as a crime writer?

“North Philly, May 4, 2001. Officer Sean Devlin, Narcotics Strike Force, was working the morning shift. Undercover surveillance. The neighborhood? Tough as a three-dollar steak. Devlin knew. Five years on the beat, nine months with the Strike Force. He’d made fifteen, maybe twenty drug busts in the neighborhood.

“Devlin spotted him: a lone man in the corner. Another approached. Quick exchange of words. Cash handed over; small objects handed back. Each man then quickly on his own way. Devlin knew the guy wasn’t buying bus tokens. He radioed a description and Officer Stein picked up the buyer. Sure enough: Three bags of crack in the guy’s pocket. Head downtown and book him. Just another day at the office.”

No, this is not the opening paragraphs of a drugstore paperback crime novel. It is the start of a dissent written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., issued today after the Supreme Court denied certiorari in the case Pennsylvania v. Dunlap.

Roberts, in a dissent joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, goes on to criticize the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for its holding that our crime hero lacked probable cause to arrest the suspect. In the dissent – which returned to the traditional legal prose after the above set-up – Roberts said he would have taken the case and ruled that probable cause can be found even where is a single transaction, the officer doesn’t clearly see the drugs, and the suspect makes no attempt to flee. But unfortunately for Pennsylvania, seven justices disagreed with the Chief. Just another day at the office at 1 First St, NE.

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