487 U.S. 533 (1988), 86-995, Murray v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 86-995
Citation:487 U.S. 533, 108 S.Ct. 2529, 101 L.Ed.2d 472, 56 U.S.L.W. 4801
Party Name:Murray v. United States
Case Date:June 27, 1988
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 533

487 U.S. 533 (1988)

108 S.Ct. 2529, 101 L.Ed.2d 472, 56 U.S.L.W. 4801

Murray

v.

United States

No. 86-995

United States Supreme Court

June 27, 1988

Argued December 8, 1987

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE FIRST CIRCUIT

Syllabus

While surveiling petitioner Murray and others suspected of illegal drug activities, federal agents observed both petitioners driving vehicles into, and later out of, a warehouse, and, upon petitioners' exit, saw that the warehouse contained a tractor-trailer rig bearing a long container. Petitioners later turned over their vehicles to other drivers, who were in turn followed and ultimately arrested, and the vehicles were lawfully seized and found to contain marijuana. After receiving this information, several agents forced their way into the warehouse and observed in plain view numerous burlap-wrapped bales. The agents left without disturbing the bales and did not return until they had obtained a warrant to search the warehouse. In applying for the warrant, they did not mention the prior entry or include any recitations of their observations made during that entry. Upon issuance of the warrant, they reentered the warehouse and seized 270 bales of marijuana and other evidence of crime. The District Court denied petitioners' pretrial motion to suppress the evidence, rejecting their arguments that the warrant was invalid because the agents did not inform the Magistrate about their prior warrantless entry, and that the warrant was tainted by that entry. Petitioners were subsequently convicted of conspiracy to possess and distribute illegal drugs. The Court of Appeals affirmed, assuming for purposes of its decision on the suppression question that the first entry into the warehouse was unlawful.

Held: The Fourth Amendment does not require the suppression of evidence initially discovered during police officers' illegal entry of private premises if that evidence is also discovered during a later search pursuant to a valid warrant that is wholly independent of the initial illegal entry. Pp. 536-544.

(a) The "independent source" doctrine permits the introduction of evidence initially discovered during, or as a consequence of, an unlawful search, but later obtained independently from lawful activities untainted by the initial illegality. Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385. There is no merit to petitioners' contention that allowing the

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doctrine to apply to evidence initially discovered during an illegal search, rather than limiting it to evidence first obtained during a later lawful search, will encourage police routinely to enter premises without a warrant. Pp. 536-541.

(b) Although the federal agents' knowledge that marijuana was in the warehouse was assuredly acquired at the time of the unlawful entry, it was also acquired at the time of entry pursuant to the warrant, and if that later acquisition was not the result of the earlier entry, the independent source doctrine allows the admission of testimony as to that knowledge. This same analysis applies to the tangible evidence, the bales of marijuana. United States v. Silvestri, 787 F.2d 736 (CA1), is unpersuasive insofar as it distinguishes between tainted intangible and tangible evidence. The ultimate question is whether the search pursuant to warrant was in fact a genuinely independent source of the information and tangible evidence at issue. This would not have been the case if the agents' decision to seek the warrant was prompted by what they had seen during the initial entry or if information obtained during that entry was presented to the Magistrate and affected his decision to issue the warrant. Because the District Court did not explicitly find that the agents would have sought a warrant if they had not earlier entered the warehouse, the cases are remanded for a determination whether the warrant-authorized search of the warehouse was an independent source in the sense herein described. Pp. 541-544.

803 F.2d 20, vacated and remanded.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 544. STEVENS, J. . filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 551. BRENNAN and KENNEDY, JJ., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

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SCALIA, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Segura v. United States, 468 U.S. 796 (1984), we held that police officers' illegal entry upon private premises did not require suppression of evidence subsequently discovered at those premises when executing a search warrant obtained on the basis of information wholly unconnected with the initial entry. In these consolidated cases, we are faced with the question whether, again assuming evidence obtained pursuant to an independently obtained search warrant, the portion of such evidence that had been observed in plain view at the time of a prior illegal entry must be suppressed.

I

Both cases arise out of the conviction of petitioner Michael F. Murray, petitioner James D. Carter, and others for conspiracy to possess and distribute illegal drugs. Insofar as relevant for our purposes, the facts are as follows: based on information received from informants, federal law enforcement agents had been surveiling petitioner Murray and several of his coconspirators. At about 1:45 p.m. on April 6, 1983, they observed Murray drive a truck and Carter drive a green camper, into a warehouse in South Boston. When the petitioners drove the vehicles out about 20 minutes later, the surveiling agents saw within the warehouse two individuals and a tractor-trailer rig bearing a long, dark container. Murray and Carter later turned over the truck and camper to other drivers, who were in turn followed and ultimately arrested, and the vehicles lawfully seized. Both vehicles were found to contain marijuana.

After receiving this information, several of the agents converged on the South Boston warehouse and forced entry. They found the warehouse unoccupied, but observed in plain view numerous burlap-wrapped bales that were later found to contain marijuana. They left without disturbing the bales, kept the warehouse under surveillance, and did not reenter it until they had a search warrant. In applying for

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the warrant, the agents did not mention the prior entry, and did not rely on any observations made during that entry. When the warrant was issued -- at 10:40 p.m., approximately eight hours after the initial entry -- the agents immediately reentered the warehouse and seized 270 bales of marijuana and notebooks listing customers for whom the bales were destined.

Before trial, petitioners moved to suppress the evidence found in the warehouse. The District Court denied the motion, rejecting petitioners' arguments that the warrant was invalid because the agents did not inform the Magistrate about their prior warrantless entry, and that the warrant was tainted by that entry. United States v. Carter, No. 83102-S (Mass., Dec. 23, 1983), App. to Pet. for Cert. 44a-45a. The First Circuit affirmed, assuming for purposes of its decision that the first entry into the warehouse was unlawful. United States v. Moscatiello, 771 F.2d 589 (1985). Murray and Carter then separately filed petitions for certiorari, which we granted,1 [108 S.Ct. 2533] 480 U.S. 916 (1987), and have consolidated here.

II

The exclusionary rule prohibits introduction into evidence of tangible materials seized during an unlawful search, Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914), and of testimony concerning knowledge acquired during an unlawful search, Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505 (1961). Beyond that, the exclusionary rule also prohibits the introduction of derivative evidence, both tangible and testimonial, that is

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the product of the primary evidence, or that is otherwise acquired as an indirect result of the unlawful search, up to the point at which the connection with the unlawful search becomes "so attentuated as to dissipate the taint," Nardone v. United States, 308 U.S. 338, 341 (1939). See Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 484-485 (1963).

Almost simultaneously with our development of the exclusionary rule, in the first quarter of this century, we also announced what has come to be known as the "independent source" doctrine. See Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385, 392 (1920). That doctrine, which has been applied to evidence acquired not only through Fourth Amendment violations, but also through Fifth and Sixth Amendment violations, has recently been described as follows:

[T]he interest of society in deterring unlawful police conduct and the public interest in having juries receive all probative evidence of a crime are properly balanced by putting the police in the same, not a worse, position that they would have been in if no police error or misconduct had occurred. . . . When the challenged evidence has an independent source, exclusion of such evidence would put the police in a worse position than they would have been in absent any error or violation.

Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431, 443 (1984). The dispute here is over the scope of this doctrine. Petitioners contend that it applies only to evidence obtained for the first time during an independent lawful search. The Government argues that it applies also to evidence initially discovered during, or as a consequence of, an unlawful search, but later obtained independently from activities untainted by the initial illegality. We think the Government's view has better support in both precedent and policy.

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