Benjamin Robinson, Constitutional Law: Suppressing the Exclusionary Rule

59 Fla. L. Rev. 475 (2007) | | | |

TEXT :: Police obtained a warrant to search Petitioner’s home and, after announcing their presence, waited only a short time before they entered and discovered drugs and a loaded gun. The State charged Petitioner with unlawful drug and firearm possession. Petitioner moved to suppress all evidence from the search by arguing that police entered his home too soon after their announcement, thereby violating the Fourth Amendment. The trial court granted Petitioner’s motion, but the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed on interlocutory review. The Michigan Supreme Court denied Petitioner’s application for leave to appeal, and Petitioner was convicted of drug possession. Petitioner challenged his conviction and reasserted his argument that police violated the Fourth Amendment. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner’s conviction, and the Michigan Supreme Court again declined review. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari and, in affirming the decision, HELD that a violation of the knock-and-announce rule does not require a court to suppress all evidence found during the search. In reaching its conclusion, the Court determined that the substantial social costs imposed by the exclusionary rule exceed its deterrent benefits and that alternative remedies provide adequate protection against Fourth Amendment knock-and-announce violations.

The exclusionary rule is a judicially created remedy designed to operate as a powerful check against police misconduct. In Mapp v. Ohio, the Court considered whether evidence obtained through a search that violated the Fourth Amendment could be admitted in a state criminal proceeding. The petitioner denied entry to state police officers who attempted to search her home without producing a warrant. Police forced their way inside and, after an extensive search, arrested the petitioner for possession of obscene material. The petitioner was convicted, and the Supreme Court of Ohio upheld her conviction. On appeal, the United States Supreme Court reversed the decision and held that all evidence obtained by searches and seizures in violation of the Fourth Amendment is not admissible in a state court.

Mapp expanded the exclusionary rule’s scope by applying the rule to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. The majority emphasized that the exclusionary rule secures the privilege and enjoyment of the Fourth Amendment through deterrence of police misconduct. In fact, the Court emphasized deterrence as the exclusionary rule’s undergirding principle. The majority reasoned that such deterrence compels respect for Fourth Amendment rights in “‘the only effectively available way-by removing the incentive to disregard [them].’” The Court analyzed several alternative remedies, but concluded that such alternatives were either inadequate or illusory.

In United States v. Leon, the Court reviewed the scope of the exclusionary rule in light of Mapp, and considered whether to recognize a good-faith exception to the rule. Police obtained a warrant to search the respondent’s home and discovered a large quantity of drugs. The respondent was indicted for violating federal drug laws, but a district court found that the search warrant’s supporting affidavit was insufficient and therefore granted the respondent’s motion to suppress the evidence seized under the warrant. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed, and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari. Carving out a significant good-faith exception, the Court held that “evidence obtained in objectively reasonable reliance” upon a facially valid search warrant later shown to violate the Fourth Amendment is admissible in federal and state criminal prosecutions.

In Leon, the Court first considered the broad application of the Mapp holding and reasoned that the exclusionary rule’s deterrent effect would not be achieved by suppressing the illegally obtained evidence. The majority established a cost-benefit analysis for applying the exclusionary rule, limiting the rule’s application to instances where its costs, specifically the exclusion of reliable information from the “‘truth-finding function[] of the courts,’” do not outweigh its deterrent benefits. The Court observed that the exclusionary rule was designed to deter police misconduct, but that the police had acted objectively and reasonably in responding to the warrant. Further, the Court rejected the notion that exclusion should be used to discipline judges and magistrates who erroneously approve search warrants. The Court found no basis to believe that exclusion of evidence seized pursuant to a warrant would have a significant deterrent effect on the issuing judge’s or magistrate’s future actions.

Eleven years later, the Court once again narrowed the exclusionary rule’s scope and application. In Arizona v. Evans, the Court encountered the intersection of advancing computer technology, Fourth Amendment violations, and the narrowing scope of the exclusionary rule. In Evans, the Court considered whether suppression is compulsory when police conduct a good faith search based on an electronic record subsequently deemed erroneous. When police stopped respondent for a traffic violation, a computer check revealed an outstanding arrest warrant. Police arrested respondent, and the search incident to his arrest revealed drugs. The State charged the respondent with drug possession but later learned that respondent’s warrant had been quashed prior to his arrest. The respondent moved to suppress the drug evidence as “fruit of an unlawful arrest,” and the trial court granted his motion. The Arizona Court of Appeals reversed, observing that the exclusionary rule was not designed to deter court or sheriff’s office employees who are not directly connected to the arresting officers. On appeal, the Arizona Supreme Court vacated the appellate court’s decision, and rejected the distinction between clerical errors made by court employees and those made by law enforcement.

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari and created a categorical exception to the exclusionary rule for “clerical errors of court employees.” The Court applied the Leon cost-benefit analysis and reasoned that an inaccurate electronic record was not the type of misconduct that the rule was designed to deter. The Court strongly rejected any notion that judicial employees are inclined to subvert or ignore the Fourth Amendment, or that lawlessness among those employees required sanction through exclusion. The Court reasoned that because court employees have no direct participation in the “competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime,” they have no incentive in the outcome of individual prosecutions. The Court thus decided that applying the exclusionary rule could not and should not be expected to deter court employees from making mistakes when performing their clerical duties.

In affirming Petitioner’s conviction, the instant Court applied the cost-benefit analysis of Leon but largely avoided the stakeholder deterrence analysis employed in Evans. Instead, the instant Court relied primarily on the substantial social cost factor of the Leon cost-benefit analysis to hold a knock-and-announce violation insufficient to trigger exclusion. Tracing the exclusionary rule’s broad application back to its expansion in Mapp, the instant Court observed a more recent shift away from “‘reflexive application.’” The instant Court further asserted that exclusion was never automatic and required a causal connection not too remote from the interests violated.

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