January 14, 2009
Supreme Court Narrows Exclusionary Rule
The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of an Alabama man on drug and weapons charges, emphasizing that the exclusionary rule, which generally bars prosecutors from using evidence obtained by the police through improper searches, is far from absolute.
In a 5-to-4 opinion, the court upheld the federal conviction of Bennie Dean Herring, who from the court records appears to have been very unlucky as well as felonious in his conduct. In upholding the conviction, the court’s majority came to a conclusion that will most likely please those who complain about criminals going free on “technicalities.”
Mr. Herring had gone to the Coffee County, Ala., sheriff’s department on July 7, 2004, to retrieve something from his truck, which had been impounded. “Herring was no stranger to law enforcement,” as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. observed dryly in his opinion for the court.
And he was no stranger to Mark Anderson, an investigator for the sheriff’s department, who asked a Coffee County clerk if there were any outstanding warrants for Mr. Herring.
No, Mr. Anderson was told. So he asked the clerk to check with her counterpart in neighboring Dale County, who turned up a warrant against Mr. Herring for failing to appear in court on a felony charge.
Mr. Anderson and a deputy following Mr. Herring as he left the impound lot pulled him over and arrested him. A search turned up methamphetamine in his pocket and a pistol, which Mr. Herring could not legally possess because of an earlier felony conviction, in his truck.
Within minutes, however, the Dale County clerk discovered that the warrant against Mr. Herring had been withdrawn five months earlier and had been left in the computer system by mistake. The clerk immediately called Mr. Anderson, but Mr. Herring had already been taken into custody.
Was Mr. Herring entitled to go free because the officers lacked probable cause and there was no dispute that both the arrest and subsequent search were unconstitutional? No, the Supreme Court ruled.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
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