What's A Few Errors Among Friends?
From the NYT:
January 15, 2009
Supreme Court Eases Limits on Evidence
By ADAM LIPTAK
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that evidence obtained from an unlawful arrest based on careless record keeping by the police may be used against a criminal defendant.
The 5-to-4 decision revealed competing conceptions of the exclusionary rule, which requires the suppression of some evidence obtained through police misconduct, and suggested that the court’s commitment to the rule was fragile.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said that the exclusion of evidence should be a last resort and that judges should use a sliding scale in deciding whether particular misconduct by the police warranted suppressing the evidence they had found.
“To trigger the exclusionary rule,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “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.”
That price, the chief justice wrote, “is, of course, letting guilty and possibly dangerous defendants go free.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the dissenters, argued for “a more majestic conception” of the exclusionary rule, and a more categorical one.
The rule requires more than a cost-benefit calculus to deter police misconduct, Justice Ginsburg wrote. It also protects defendants’ rights, she said, and prevents judicial complicity in “official lawlessness.”
The case began when methamphetamines and a gun were found after Bennie D. Herring, an Alabama man, was arrested based on police officers’ mistaken belief that he was subject to an outstanding arrest warrant.
That belief was based on incorrect information in the computer files of a neighboring county’s police department. The warrant had been withdrawn, but the database had not been updated.
Calling the error “isolated negligence attenuated from the arrest,” Chief Justice Roberts said the lower courts had been correct in allowing the jury in Mr. Herring’s case to consider the evidence. He was convicted and sentenced to 27 months in prison...
My favorite part? This quote:
...The decision in the case, Herring v. United States, No. 07-513, may have broad consequences, said Craig M. Bradley, a law professor at Indiana University.
“It may well be,” Professor Bradley said, “that courts will take this as a green light to ignore police negligence all over the place.”
Majority opinion here; dissent by Ginsburg here; dissent by Breyer here.
If the po-lice can rely, without consequence, on crappy information in obtaining arrest and search warrants, we had all better start working on escape-and-evasion plans.
Audentes fortuna juvat.