514 U.S. 1 (1995), 93-1660, Arizona v. Evans

Docket Nº:No. 93-1660
Citation:514 U.S. 1, 115 S.Ct. 1185, 131 L.Ed.2d 34, 63 U.S.L.W. 4179
Case Date:March 01, 1995
Court:United States Supreme Court

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514 U.S. 1 (1995)

115 S.Ct. 1185, 131 L.Ed.2d 34, 63 U.S.L.W. 4179




No. 93-1660

United States Supreme Court

March 1, 1995

Argued December 7, 1994



Respondent was arrested by Phoenix police during a routine traffic stop when a patrol car's computer indicated that there was an outstanding misdemeanor warrant for his arrest. A subsequent search of his car revealed a bag of marijuana, and he was charged with possession. Respondent moved to suppress the marijuana as the fruit of an unlawful arrest, since the misdemeanor warrant had been quashed before his arrest. The trial court granted the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that the exclusionary rule's purpose would not be served by excluding evidence obtained because of an error by employees not directly associated with the arresting officers or their police department. In reversing, the Arizona Supreme Court rejected the distinction between clerical errors committed by law enforcement personnel and similar mistakes by court employees and predicted that the exclusionary rule's application would serve to improve the efficiency of criminal justice system recordkeepers.


1. This Court has jurisdiction to review the State Supreme Court's decision. Under Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, when a state-court decision fairly appears to rest primarily on federal law, or to be inter-woven with federal law, and when the adequacy and independence of any possible state-law ground is not clear from the opinion's face, this Court will accept as the most reasonable explanation that the state court decided the case the way it did because it believed that federal law required it to do so. This standard for determining whether a

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state-court decision rests upon an adequate and independent state ground was adopted (1) to obviate the unsatisfactory and intrusive practice of requiring state courts to clarify their decisions to this Court's satisfaction and (2) to provide state judges with a clearer opportunity to develop state jurisprudence unimpeded by federal interference and yet preserve the federal law's integrity. Michigan properly serves its purpose and should not be disturbed. State courts are free both to interpret state constitutional provisions to accord greater protection to individual rights than do similar provisions of the United States Constitution and to serve as experimental laboratories. However, in cases where they interpret the United States Constitution, they are not free from the final authority of this Court. In this case, the State Supreme Court based its decision squarely upon its interpretation of federal law when it discussed the appropriateness of applying the exclusionary rule, and it offered no plain statement that its references to federal law were being used only for the purpose of guidance and did not compel the result reached. Pp. 6-10.

2. The exclusionary rule does not require suppression of evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment where the erroneous information resulted from clerical errors of court employees. The exclusionary rule is a judicially created remedy designed to safeguard against future violations of Fourth Amendment rights through its deterrent effect. However, the issue of exclusion is separate from whether the Amendment has been violated. The Amendment does not expressly preclude the use of evidence obtained in violation of its commands, and exclusion is appropriate only where the rule's remedial objectives are thought most efficaciously served. The same framework that this Court used in United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, to determine that there was no sound reason to apply the exclusionary rule as a means of deterring misconduct on the part of judicial officers responsible for issuing search warrants applies in this case. The exclusionary rule was historically designed as a means of deterring police misconduct, not mistakes by court employees. See id., at 916. In addition, respondent offers no evidence that court employees are inclined to ignore or subvert the Fourth Amendment or that lawlessness among these actors requires application of the extreme sanction of exclusion. See ibid. In fact, the Justice Court Clerk testified that this type of error occurred only once every three or four years. Finally, there is no basis for believing that application of the exclusionary rule will have a significant effect on court employees responsible for informing the police that a warrant has been quashed. Since they are not adjuncts to the law enforcement team engaged in ferreting out crime, they have no stake in the outcome of particular prosecutions. Application of the exclusionary rule also could not

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be expected to alter an arresting officer's behavior, since there is no indication that the officer here was not acting reasonably when he relied upon the computer record. Pp. 10-16.

177 Ariz. 201, 866 P.2d 869, reversed and remanded.

Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, and Breyer, JJ., joined. O'Connor, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Souter and Breyer, JJ., joined, post, p. 16. Souter, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Breyer, J., joined, post, p. 18. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 18. Ginsburg, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Stevens, J., joined, post, p. 23.

Gerald R. Grant argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner.

Carol A. Carrigan argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent.[*]

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment by an officer who

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acted in reliance on a police record indicating the existence of an outstanding arrest warrant—a record that is later determined to be erroneous—must be suppressed by virtue of the exclusionary rule regardless of the source of the error. The Supreme Court of Arizona held that the exclusionary rule required suppression of evidence even if the erroneous information resulted from an error committed by an employee of the office of the Clerk of Court. We disagree.

In January 1991, Phoenix police officer Bryan Sargent observed respondent Isaac Evans driving the wrong way on a one-way street in front of the police station. The officer stopped respondent and asked to see his driver's license. After respondent told him that his license had been suspended, the officer entered respondent's name into a computer data terminal located in his patrol car. The computer inquiry confirmed that respondent's license had been suspended and also indicated that there was an outstanding misdemeanor warrant for his arrest. Based upon the outstanding warrant, Officer Sargent placed respondent under arrest. While being handcuffed, respondent dropped a hand-rolled cigarette that the officers determined smelled of marijuana. Officers proceeded to search his car and discovered a bag of marijuana under the passenger's seat.

The State charged respondent with possession of marijuana. When the police notified the Justice Court that they had arrested him, the Justice Court discovered that the arrest warrant previously had been quashed and so advised the police. Respondent argued that because his arrest was based on a warrant that had been quashed 17 days prior to his arrest, the marijuana seized incident to the arrest should be suppressed as the fruit of an unlawful arrest. Respondent also argued that "[t]he 'good faith' exception to the exclusionary rule [was] inapplicable . . . because it was police error, not judicial error, which caused the invalid arrest." App. 5.

At the suppression hearing, the Chief Clerk of the Justice Court testified that a Justice of the Peace had issued the

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arrest warrant on December 13, 1990, because respondent had failed to appear to answer for several traffic violations. On December 19, 1990, respondent appeared before a pro tem Justice of the Peace who entered a notation in respondent's file to "quash warrant." Id., at 13.

The Chief Clerk also testified regarding the standard court procedure for quashing a warrant. Under that procedure a justice court clerk calls and informs the warrant section of the Sheriff's Office when a warrant has been quashed. The Sheriff's Office then removes the warrant from its computer records. After calling the Sheriff's Office, the clerk makes a note in the individual's file indicating the clerk who made the phone call and the person at the Sheriff's Office to whom the clerk spoke. The Chief Clerk testified that there was no indication in respondent's file that a clerk had called and notified the Sheriff's Office that his arrest warrant had been quashed. A records clerk from the Sheriff's Office also testified that the Sheriff's Office had no record of a telephone call informing it that respondent's arrest warrant had been quashed. Id., at 42-43.

At the close of testimony, respondent argued that the evidence obtained as a result of the arrest should be suppressed because "the purposes of the exclusionary rule would be served here by making the clerks for the court, or the clerk for the Sheriff's office, whoever is responsible for this mistake, to be more careful about making sure that warrants are removed from the records." Id., at 47. The trial court granted the motion to suppress because it concluded that the State had been at fault for failing to quash the warrant. Presumably because it could find no "distinction between State action, whether it happens to be the police department or not," id., at 52, the trial court made no factual finding as to whether the Justice Court or Sheriff's Office was responsible for the continued presence of the quashed warrant in the police records.

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A divided panel of the Arizona Court...

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