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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Justices Allow Evidence Despite Police Error

(CN) - In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to suppress the gun and drug evidence used to indict an Alabama man after police illegally searched his home based on an error in the county database.

Coffee County officers arrested Bennie Dean Herring based on a warrant listed in neighboring Dale County's database. Herring was indicted on federal gun and drug possession charges after police found methamphetamine in his pocket and a pistol in his truck.

Police later learned that Herring's warrant had been recalled months before the search, but Dale County had neglected to update its database.

Herring sued the government, claiming the contraband seized during the illegal search had to be excluded from prosecution. He argued that police negligence automatically triggers suppression of evidence.

The parties agreed that the search violated Herring's Fourth Amendment rights, but disagreed about whether the evidence should be tossed out.

The district court and the 11th Circuit ruled that it should not. They concluded that the arresting officers were innocent of any wrongdoing, and that the bookkeeping error was merely negligent.

On a 5-4 vote, the high court affirmed.

"When police mistakes leading to an unlawful search are the result of isolated negligence attenuated from the search, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements, the exclusionary rule does not apply," Chief Justice Roberts wrote.

Justice Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer.

"Negligent recordkeeping errors by law enforcement threaten individual liberty, are susceptible to deterrence by the exclusionary rule, and cannot be remedied effectively through other means," Ginsburg wrote. "Such errors present no occasion to further erode the exclusionary rule."

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