468 U.S. 981 (1984), 82-963, Massachusetts v. Sheppard

Docket Nº:No. 82-963
Citation:468 U.S. 981, 104 S.Ct. 3424, 82 L.Ed.2d 737
Party Name:Massachusetts v. Sheppard
Case Date:July 05, 1984
Court:United States Supreme Court

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468 U.S. 981 (1984)

104 S.Ct. 3424, 82 L.Ed.2d 737




No. 82-963

United States Supreme Court

July 5, 1984

Argued January 17, 1984




On the basis of evidence gathered in the investigation of a homicide in the Roxbury section of Boston, a police detective drafted an affidavit to support an application for an arrest warrant and a search warrant authorizing the search of respondent's residence. The affidavit stated that the police wished to search for certain described items, including clothing of the victim and a blunt instrument that might have been used on the victim. The affidavit was reviewed and approved by the District Attorney. Because it was Sunday, the local court was closed, and the police had a difficult time finding a warrant application form. The detective finally found a warrant form previously used in another district to search for controlled substances. After making some changes in the form, the detective presented it and the affidavit to a judge at his residence, informing him that the warrant form might need to be further changed. Concluding that the affidavit established probable cause to search respondent's residence and telling the detective that the necessary changes in the warrant form would be made, the judge [104 S.Ct. 3425] made some changes, but did not change the substantive portion, which continued to authorize a search for controlled substances, nor did he alter the form so as to incorporate the affidavit. The judge then signed the warrant and returned it and the affidavit to the detective, informing him that the warrant was sufficient authority in form and content to carry out the requested search. The ensuing search of respondent's residence by the detective and other police officers was limited to the items listed in the affidavit, and several incriminating pieces of evidence were discovered. Thereafter, respondent was charged with first-degree murder. At a pretrial suppression hearing, the trial judge ruled that notwithstanding the warrant was defective under the Fourth Amendment in that it did not particularly describe the items to be seized, the incriminating evidence could be admitted because the police had acted in good faith in executing what they reasonably thought was a valid warrant. At the subsequent trial, respondent was convicted. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that the evidence should have been suppressed.

Held: Federal law does not require the exclusion of the disputed evidence. Pp. 987-991.

(a) The exclusionary rule should not be applied when the officer conducting the search acted in objectively reasonable reliance on a warrant

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issued by a detached and neutral magistrate that subsequently is determined to be invalid. United States v. Leon, ante p. 897. Pp. 987-988.

(b) Here, there was an objectively reasonable basis for the officers' mistaken belief that the warrant authorized the search they conducted. The officers took every step that could reasonably be expected of them. At the point where the judge returned the affidavit and warrant to the detective, a reasonable police officer would have concluded, as the detective did, that the warrant authorized a search for the materials outlined in the affidavit. Pp. 988-989.

(c) A police officer is not required to disbelieve a judge who has just advised him that the warrant he possesses authorizes him to conduct the search he has requested. Pp. 989-990.

(d) An error of constitutional dimensions may have been committed with respect to the issuance of the warrant in this case, but it was the judge, not the police officer, who made the critical mistake. Suppressing evidence because the judge failed to make all the necessary clerical corrections despite his assurance that such changes would be made will not serve the deterrent function that the exclusionary rule was designed to achieve. Pp. 990-991.

387 Mass. 488, 441 N.E.2d 725, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, ante p. 960. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, ante p. 928.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves the application of the rules articulated today in United States v. Leon, ante p. 897, to a situation in

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which police officers seize items pursuant to a warrant subsequently invalidated because of a technical error on the part of the issuing judge.


The badly burned body of Sandra Boulware was discovered in a vacant lot in the Roxbury section of Boston at approximately 5 a.m., Saturday, May 5, 1979. An autopsy revealed that Boulware had died of multiple compound skull fractures caused by blows to the head. After a brief investigation, the police decided to question one of the victim's boyfriends, Osborne Sheppard. Sheppard told the police that he had last seen the victim on Tuesday night, and that he had been at a local gaming house (where card games were played) from 9 p.m. Friday [104 S.Ct. 3426] until 5 a.m. Saturday. He identified several people who would be willing to substantiate the latter claim.

By interviewing the people Sheppard had said were at the gaming house on Friday night, the police learned that, although...

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