High Court, 5-4, Upholds Evidence Use From Unlawful Arrest


The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 yesterday that evidence obtained from an unlawful arrest based on careless record keeping by the police may be used against a criminal defendant. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. said that the exclusion of evidence should be a last resort and that judges should use a sliding scale in deciding whether particular misconduct by the police warranted suppressing the evidence they had found. “To trigger the exclusionary rule,” he wrote, “police conduct must be sufficiently deliberate that exclusion can meaningfully deter it, and sufficiently culpable that such deterrence is worth the price paid by the justice system.” That price “is, of course, letting guilty and possibly dangerous defendants go free.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for the dissenters, argued for “a more majestic conception” of the exclusionary rule, and a more categorical one. The rule requires more than a cost-benefit calculus to deter police misconduct, she wrote. It also protects defendants' rights, she said, and prevents judicial complicity in “official lawlessness.” The case began when methamphetamines and a gun were found after Bennie Herring of Alabama was arrested based on police officers' mistaken belief that he was subject to an outstanding arrest warrant. Law Prof. Craig Bradley of Indiana University said the ruling might be seen by other courts “as a green light to ignore police negligence all over the place.”

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/15/washington/15scotus.html?_r=1

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