Supreme Court hears arguments on exclusionary rule
Supreme Court hears arguments on exclusionary rule
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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website, JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] Monday in Davis v. United States [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report] on the Fourth Amendment [text] exclusionary rule [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The issue is whether the rule requires the suppression of evidence obtained from a search permitted by the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decision in United States v. Gonzalez [opinion text] after the court overturned Gonzalez in Arizona v. Gant [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. The Eleventh Circuit refused to apply the exclusionary rule, holding [opinion, PDF] that the search was objectively reasonable when relying on then-binding precedent and that the good faith exception allows the use of evidence obtained under reasonable reliance on well-settled precedent. Counsel for the petitioner argued that the court should reverse the good faith principle, saying:

The Court has to properly construe the Fourth Amendment and the police need to then properly follow the Court’s precedents. The Court can’t turn away from the role of this Court’s precedents in the enforcement of the Fourth Amendment. … Under the government’s proposed rule, defendants would have a limited ability to challenge precedents that construe the Fourth Amendment too narrowly, but of course of government would be free in any case to challenge precedents that the government believes construes the Fourth Amendment too broadly. The concern is that over time that would lead to an asymmetry in the Court’s outcomes, not as a result of the measured judgments of this Court, but rather as a result of the incentives on counsel, and the Court should strive to avoid that sort of result.

Counsel for the government argued that the exclusionary rule is not a personal individual right or a constitutional right, but rather a remedy the court has devised after finding a Fourth Amendment violation. “The purpose of the exclusionary rule is to deter future conduct by other counterparts of that police officer or the police officer himself, so that when he confronts the situation in the future he will be more solicitous of Fourth Amendment rights.” The government explained that if the court adopted another purpose for the rule, it would depart from its consistent holdings of the rule’s purpose and “create pressure for litigants to urge that additional policy interests of the administration of justice would be served.”

In Tolentino v. New York [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether the exclusionary rule prohibits police from using a defendant’s driving record compiled by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) obtained after illegally stopping the defendant. The Court of Appeals of New York held that the exclusionary rule does not bar police from using evidence that a driver had his license suspended 10 previous times after police allegedly illegally stopped the vehicle. Counsel for the petitioner argued that the DMV records were fruit of the poisonous tree, saying:

The problem with the categorical rule, is that it will create a fresh incentive for police officers to make these kind of suspicionless stops, and so it will encourage police to violate the Fourth Amendment. … [T]his Court has always defined evidentiary fruit as something of evidentiary value which the public authorities have caused an arrested person to yield to them during an illegal detention … the DMV records would fit that definition of evidentiary fruit. In this case, because it is the classic situation where there’s sufficient causal connection between the Fourth Amendment violation and the subsequent discovery of the evidence to justify suppression, there’s no reason not to apply the exclusionary rule here, and in fact, it meets all the definition of the sort of case where there would be very high level of deterrence as a result of applying the exclusionary rule.

Counsel for the government argued that the DMV records should not be subject to suppression as they were already in the government’s possession and therefore are not fruit of the poisonous tree or the product of any illegal government activity.