Caleb Mason, an associate professor of law at Southwestern University, has done us all a service by producing, in a paper for the Saint Louis University Law Journal, the most thorough legal reading of Jay-Z's "99 Problems" yet. The upshot? Jay-Z mostly gets it right, except for one glaring omission. Some highlights:

In my rearview mirror is the motherfucking law/I got two choices y'all, pull over the car or/Bounce on the double put the pedal to the floor

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.

And I Heard "Son do you know what I'm stopping you for?"/"Cause I'm young and I'm black and my hat's real low?/Do I look like a mind reader sir, I don't know/Am I under arrest or should I guess some mo?"

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A great question, and an important one for any future suppression claim. As new lawyers learn (to their dismay), there is no constitutional problem with arresting someone for a traffic violation, no matter how minor. And if you are arrested for a traffic violation, your car can be impounded and then searched to inventory its contents, without a warrant and without any level of suspicion that the car contains contraband. Your person, clothing, and bags can also be searched with no required quantum of suspicion. On the other hand, if you are not under arrest, the police need probable cause to search the car. So if the cop tells you you're not under arrest, and then proceeds to search the car, you will be able to suppress any contraband if you can show that there was no probable cause for the search. Here again, documentation will be important.

"Do you mind if I look around the car a little bit?"/"Well, my glove compartment is locked, so is the trunk and the back,/And I know my rights so you go'n need a warrant for that"

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. Based on the number of my students who arrived at law school believing that if you lock your trunk and glove compartment, the police will need a warrant to search them, I surmise that it's even more widespread among the lay public. But it's completely, 100% wrong. There is no warrant requirement for car searches. The Supreme Court has declared unequivocally that because cars are inherently mobile (and are pervasively regulated, and operated in public spaces), it is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment for the police to search the car-the whole car, and everything in the car, including containers-whenever they have probable cause to believe that the car contains evidence of crime.

You don't have to arrest the person, or impound the vehicle. You just need probable cause to believe that the car contains evidence of crime. So, 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.

All the action, in short, is about probable cause. Warrants never come into the picture. The fact that the trunk and glove compartments are locked is completely irrelevant. Now, Jay-Z may have just altered the lyrics for dramatic effect, but that would be unfortunate insofar as the song is going to reach many more people than any criminal procedure lecture, and everyone should really know the outline of the law in this area. What the line should say is: "You'll need some p.c. for that." Given that we've established (it appears) that Jay-Z is not under arrest, and given that the Terry frisk of the car is limited to accessible places a weapon could be hidden, the trunk is definitely off limits at this point. What that means is that if the officer opened the trunk by force, without developing articulable probable cause, the contraband found inside would be suppressed. That is the point of the next line.

You can read the whole thing here:

[SLU Law Journal via @EdZitron]