Herring v. United States (2009)

The case of Herring v. United States involved evidence found during a search that was conducted based on a recalled arrest warrant. The Supreme Court decision in this case was based on the precedent of two prior cases, Arizona v. Evans and United States v. Leon. In Arizona v. Evans the Court ruled that the exclusionary rule doesn’t apply due to errors made by people such as court clerks. The decision in United States v. Leon created the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule, which stated that the exclusionary rule does not apply when officers were acting in “good faith,” or if they believed what they were doing to be legal. In Herring, the Supreme Court took into account the precedent set by these two cases.

In Herring v. United States Bennie Herring went to the Sheriff’s department to retrieve items from his impounded truck. An investigator there asked the warrant clerk for Coffee County to check if Herring had any warrants for his arrest. After not finding any, the investigator asked the clerk to contact the warrant clerk for Dale County to see if he had any there. The warrant clerk found one outstanding warrant, and the warrant clerk for Coffee County asked her to fax it over. However upon trying to do so, the clerk found no warrant in his file and that the warrant had in fact been recalled, but the database never updated. During this time, about 15 minutes, two officers detained and arrested Herring as he exited the impoundment lot. Upon a search incident to arrest the officers found methamphetamine in Herring’s pocket as well as a pistol under his seat. Herring appealed on the basis that the arrest was not lawful because the warrant was recalled, and he attempted to invoke the exclusionary rule to suppress the evidence found during the search. The legal question brought forth by this case was whether or not using evidence in court found during a search conducted incident to an arrest based on a recalled warrant that was believed to be valid violate the fourth amendment rights of a defendant?

The Supreme Court ruled that no, this evidence could be introduced because the warrant clerks made the mistake, not the police officers. Because the unlawful search was an isolated incident and not a result of systematic negligence of police officers, the exclusionary rule was not applicable due to the good faith exception. Because the police officers conducted the search under good faith, believing that the warrant was current, the evidence found was not admissible.

I agree with the Court’s decision. I do not think that the officers in this case operated with undue force or overstepped any boundaries that could have resulted in a violation of the fourth amendment rights of the defendant. However I do agree with Justice Breyer’s point in his dissent that the Court should draw a line between errors made by officers and those made by clerks rather than assessing police culpability when deciding whether or not the exclusionary rule should be applied.

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