[h1]US supreme court rules evidence admissible despite police error[/h1]
The United States Supreme Court today ruled that jurors may hear evidence discovered in a search based on faulty information in a police computer database. The court ruled that the US constitution's protections against unreasonable search and seizure do not exclude evidence gained through "isolated negligence" where there is no evidence of police wrongdoing. In a 5-4 decision, the high court found that if police wrongly believe they have an arrest warrant because a computer database contains an incorrect entry indicated the existence of a warrant, evidence they discover upon making the arrest may be used to prosecute the defendant. The decision could have far-reaching consequences, as law enforcement use of electronic databases grows. In the case in question, a Alabama man, Bennie Dean Herring, was arrested when a police computer showed he was wanted on an arrest warrant in a neighbouring county. An investigator then searched his truck and found methamphetamine and an illegal pistol. When officers sought to retrieve the initial arrest warrant just minutes later, they discovered it had been cancelled five months earlier, though the entry had not been removed from the police computer. In a federal court hearing soon after the arrest, Herring asked the judge to suppress the gun and the methamphetamine, arguing the search was illegal because the arrest warrant had been rescinded and police had no other justification for a search. A judge denied Herring's motion, saying that exclusion of the evidence would do little to deter similar police errors in the future, and an appeals court later agreed. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts, a Bush appointee and conservative voice on the court, found that the mere fact of an illegal search does not necessitate throwing out the evidence obtained. He wrote that if evidence is to be excluded, the exclusion must effectively deter future illegal searches. "To trigger the exclusionary rule, police conduct must be sufficiently deliberate that exclusion can meaningfully deter it, and sufficiently culpable that such deterrence is worth the price paid by the justice system," he wrote. But in Herring's case, the police error was isolated, so the gun and drugs may be used in court. Roberts was joined in the opinion by the court's conservative bloc - Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito - and by Anthony Kennedy, considered a swing vote. Dissenting were the court's liberal bloc, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, David Souter and Steven Breyer. In the dissenting opinion, Ginsburg wrote that exclusion of evidence is a defendant's "redress" for an illegal search. "The court's opinion underestimates the need for a forceful exclusionary rule and the gravity of record-keeping errors in law enforcement," she wrote. Ginsburg also disagreed with the majority's assertion that the exclusion of evidence in this type of case would be unlikely to deter future police negligence. She wrote that the Dale County, Alabama, sheriff's department, which made the mistake, could have a established a routine practice of checking the computer database for accuracy, and noted that the scope and influence of law enforcement databases has expanded dramatically in recent years. "By restricting suppression to bookkeeping errors that are deliberate or reckless, the majority leaves Herring, and others like him, with no remedy for violations of their constitutional rights," she wrote. The case is a timely reminder of one of the key tasks facing Barack Obama in his coming White House term. In recent years, the supreme court has decided some of the most ideologically charged cases by a 5-4 decision, with the nine justices split into reliable voting blocs. As many as three US supreme court justices are likely to retire in the next four years, giving Obama an opportunity to nominate justices that share his views on abortion, constitutional rights of terrorism suspects and criminal defendants, separation of church and state, and other contentious social and legal issues. The nine high court justices hold lifetime appointments and must be confirmed by the Senate.
fnord added 131 Minutes and 4 Seconds later...
Supreme Court Strikes Another Small Blow Against Exclusionary Rule
Submitted b Scottmorgan on January 14, 2009 - 7:27pm. Today’s Supreme Court ruling in Herring v. U.S. provides yet another opportunity for us to put a bad ruling in perspective. Like most recent 4th Amendment cases decided by the Court, Herring is an unfortunate finding, but it’s not going to change our advice on handling police encounters.
Bennie Dean Herring was known to local police, who spotted him at the impound lot where he was retrieving an item from his impounded truck. An officer confirmed that Herring had a warrant in a neighboring county and arrested him, in the process discovering methamphetamine and a gun. Moments later, the officer learned that the warrant was erroneous, thus the arrest and subsequent search were invalid.
The Supreme Court found that because officers legitimately believed a warrant existed for Herring’s arrest, their actions were justified and not subject to the exclusionary rule, which prohibits the use of illegally obtained evidence. This is called the "good faith" doctrine, wherein police actions are upheld if officers believed they were acting legally (even if they were not).
The "good faith" doctrine is nothing new, so the Court’s decision isn’t particularly shocking. The Court argues that the exclusionary rule is intended to deter police misconduct and shouldn’t be applied here because the officers didn’t willfully do anything wrong. The dissent argues, and I agree, that the exclusionary rule is a perfectly appropriate means of deterring police agencies from keeping bad records that cause illegal arrests. If there’s no penalty for using bad information, then police have no incentive to keep their books in order. Worse yet, I could envision situations in which police manufacture "good faith" circumstances by preemptively withholding relevant facts from the arresting officers.
The exclusionary rule is vital to the interests of justice and we regret any ruling that reduces the citizen’s protection against illegally obtained evidence. That said, we hope the public will recognize that today’s decision is based on a specific set of circumstances and does not mean that police can now perform illegal arrests at will. The 4th Amendment continues to protect citizens against illegal searches, particularly in common scenarios such as searches that follow a refusal of consent. There’s no question that the Supreme Court is disturbingly reluctant to uphold 4th Amendment rights, but our right against unreasonable searches and seizures is still relevant in the vast majority of common police encounters. Knowing these rights remains your best and only defense when confronted by law enforcement.
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