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Herring v. United States - whittling away at the Fourth Amendment

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  • Herring v. United States - whittling away at the Fourth Amendment

    January 14, 2009

    U.S. Supreme Court holds that an illegal search conducted based on a faulty arrest warrant that should have been purged from the system, does not invoke the exclusionary rule.

    Does a court violate the Fourth Amendment rights of a criminal defendant by introducing evidence obtained through a police search based on an arrest warrant that should have been recalled, but was negligently allowed to remain active, at the time of the search?

    No. In a 5-4 decision with Chief Justice John G. Roberts writing for the majority and joined by Justice Antonin G. Scalia, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the Supreme Court affirmed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. It held that a criminal defendant's Fourth Amendment rights are not violated when police mistakes that lead to unlawful searches are merely the result of isolated negligence and "not systematic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements." Evidence obtained under these circumstances is admissible and not subject to the exclusionary rule.

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented and was joined by Justice John Paul Stevens, Justice David H. Souter, and Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Justice Ginsburg argued that an intact exclusionary rule provides a strong incentive for police compliance with respect to the Fourth Amendment and its erosion in this case was not warranted. Justice Breyer also filed a separate dissenting opinion and was joined by Justice Souter. He argued that the Court should move away from its reliance on analyzing the degree of police culpability when determining whether the exclusionary rule applies, but rather draw a bright line between errors made by record keepers and those made by police officers.
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