United States v. Leon

Police in Burbank, California received a tip of unproven reliability in 1981 that named Patsy Stewart and Armando Sanchez as drug dealers who kept drugs both in their house and at another location. Police kept their residence under surveillance and discovered car belonging to Ricardo Del Castillo. Del Castillo’s history of drug possession and probation records connected him to a known drug dealer, Alberto Leon. Further surveillance on both locations and information from a second informant led police to request a warrant to search several locations, which was issued. The searches uncovered large quantities of drugs, which were used as evidence in the trial. The Supreme Court ruled that the evidence acquired because of the warrant was permissible in court.

Justice White argues in the opinion of the Court that “evidence seized by officers reasonably relying on a warrant issued by a detached and neutral magistrate…should be admissible.” He puts limits on this statement to  hold judges and officers accountable. White argues that evidence should be suppressed only if the “judge was misled by information in an affidavit that the affiant knew was false or would have known was false except for his reckless disregard for the truth.” If a judge was lied to, if a judge knowingly issues a warrant on false information, or if an officer cannot reasonably believe that the judge  then the evidence should be suppressed.  White thinks that excluding evidence is a hindrance to justice and neither deters judges from making mistakes in issuing warrants nor officers from applying for a warrant without probable cause, which is why he does not support excluding evidence except in very specific situations.

Justice Brennan and Justice Marshall dissent, arguing that the cost and benefit analysis of excluding evidence pursuant to an invalid warrant done by the majority exaggerates the true cost of excluding evidence and neglects to protect the “indispensable freedoms” promised to citizens in the Fourth Amendment. Justices Brennan and Marshall worry that, without the proper safeguards against illegally obtaining evidence, “we may be lured by the temptations of expediency” and the rights and liberties of citizens will be left unprotected in favor of fast-moving, if not reliable, investigations and trials.

I do not agree with the majority in this decision. Near the beginning of Justice White’s opinion he writes that whether or not it is appropriate to exclude evidence in this case is a separate question from whether or not Leon’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated. I disagree. If there is a search pursuant to an invalid warrant, then whoever was searched has had their Fourth Amendment rights violated and the evidence acquired in that search should be inadmissible in court, just as a statement given by a person in custodial interrogation who has not been read their Miranda rights should be inadmissible in court. While law enforcement may attempt to get around obtaining a warrant and having probable cause before a search in the same way that officers have tried to find ways around Miranda, the greater wrong would be to do nothing about the violation of the rights of citizens.

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