Legal Reference

Supremes - BORs null and void!!!

If cops accidently violate your rights - No problem! Supremes flush Bill of Rights down the toilet!


High court OKs using evidence from search arising from error

By Joan Biskupic, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON A divided Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that drug evidence found during an unlawful arrest arising from a computer error about a warrant could be used at trial against the defendant. When police mistakes that lead to an unlawful search arise from "negligence rather than systematic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements," evidence need not be kept from trial, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the 5-4 majority in the case from Alabama.

He was joined by the four other conservative justices: Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

The four liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, David Souter and Stephen Breyer dissented. They said that because the search violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, the evidence should have been excluded. "The most serious impact of the court's holding will be on innocent persons wrongfully arrested based on erroneous information carelessly maintained in a computer database," Ginsburg wrote for the dissenters.

She cited findings from the Electronic Privacy Information Center that government databases are rife with errors.

The Roberts majority focused on the societal costs of excluding drugs and other evidence seized. The court enhanced officers' ability to use evidence by arguing that an unlawful arrest was not reckless or deliberate.

A warrant clerk in Coffee County, Ala., mistakenly told a police investigator that a warrant from a nearby county was out for Bennie Dean Herring, who had driven to the Coffee County Sheriff's Department to get something from his impounded truck. The Dale County computer error was quickly discovered. But by the time the warrant clerk alerted the police investigator, Herring had been arrested and found with an illegal pistol and with methamphetamine in his pocket.

After Herring was indicted on federal gun and drug possession charges, he argued the evidence could not be used against him because the arrest was illegal. The Fourth Amendment requires police to have a warrant or probable cause to make an arrest.

Lower U.S. courts rejected his claim, and the Supreme Court affirmed. Like the lower courts, the Roberts majority said the mistake arose from negligence rather than a deliberate effort to deprive Herring of his rights.

A "friend of the court" brief from the Electronic Privacy Information Center said, "Increasingly, law enforcement officials and other government employees are relying on government and commercial databases full of mistakes that are well-documented but rarely corrected." Stanford University law professor Jeffrey Fisher, who represented Herring, said the court's test is difficult because a defendant would be unlikely to show negligence in computerized records without doing an audit.