A criminal-law doctrine known as the exclusionary rule forbids prosecutors from using evidence obtained by the police as the result of an improper search. Some Supreme Court Justices have made no secret of their desire to carve more exceptions out of the nearly 100-year-old rule, says the New York Times. The court accepted a case yesterday that could provide a route toward that goal. The question is whether the list of exceptions should be expanded to include evidence obtained from a search undertaken by officers relying on a careless record-keeping error by the police.
Coffee County, Al., officers arrested a man after being informed by the sheriff in neighboring Dale County that he was the subject of an outstanding warrant. The warrant actually had been withdrawn five months earlier. In the few minutes it took for Dale County to realize its error, Coffee County officers handcuffed the man and searched him and his truck, finding methamphetamine and an unloaded pistol. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, citing the Supreme Court's most recent discussion of the exclusionary rule, in 2006, said suppression of reliable evidence placed a heavy toll on the criminal justice system and should be used as a last resort. In the 2006 case, the high court, 5 to 4, refused to apply the exclusionary rule to evidence found by police officers who burst into a Detroit man's home to execute a search warrant without first knocking and giving the man a chance to respond.