The Supreme Court's Fourth Amendment cases can seem like endless variations on a single sad theme. The police search some luckless soul, his car or both; they find drugs, guns or both; and the defense argues that the evidence should be suppressed. The court heard two more such cases on Tuesday, and, as usual, the justices struggled to identify clear rules to separate lawful searches from unconstitutional ones, says the New York Times. But these cases were more interesting than usual, thanks to a discussion of a larger theme that has engaged several Supreme Court justices in recent years: does the exclusionary rule, which requires the suppression of some evidence produced by police misconduct, still make sense?
The first case concerned an Alabama man who was arrested, searched and found with methamphetamines and a pistol. He argued that the evidence should be thrown out because the officers who arrested him had relied on false information from the computer files of police in a neighboring county. That database showed an outstanding warrant for the man’s arrest. In fact, the warrant had been withdrawn five months before. The case seems likely to turn on whether the court decides to extend a 1995 decision, Arizona v. Evans, which recognized an exception to the exclusionary rule for arrests resulting from erroneous computer records kept by court employees.