Friday, January 16, 2009

Supreme Court Issues 4th Amendment Decision

The United States Supreme Court issued an important decision concerning the 4th Amendment's so called "exclusionary rule." The case is Herring v. U.S. 07-513. Bennie Dean Herring was arrested by Coffee County Alabama sheriff's deputies because there was a warrant for his arrest out of neighboring Dale County Alabama. The problem is that the warrant out of Dale County Alabama had been recalled many months earlier but was mistakenly not removed from the county computer system. Thus, when Coffee County sheriff's deputies arrested Herring, they did so by mistake. After Herring was arrested, sheriff's deputies searched him and found amphetamines in his pockets and an unloaded gun in his truck. After Herring was taken to the police station, it was discovered that the warrant did not exist, but it was too late for Herring. He was subsequently convicted of federal gun and drug charges.

On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 decision, held that the evidence obtained by the Coffee County sheriff can be used to prosecute Herring. The Supreme Court refused to apply the exclusionary rule when the search and seizure is based on a simple police mistake. The majority opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts who held that evidence seized by the police may be used "when police mistakes are the result of negligence such as that described here, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements." Justice Roberts was joined by the conservative justices, including Justice Anthony Kennedy. This decision was along ideological lines.

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