555 U.S. 135 (2009), 07-513, Herring v. United States

Docket Nº:07-513.
Citation:555 U.S. 135, 129 S.Ct. 695, 172 L.Ed.2d 496, 77 U.S.L.W. 4047
Party Name:Bennie Dean HERRING, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES.
Case Date:January 14, 2009
Court:United States Supreme Court

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555 U.S. 135 (2009)

129 S.Ct. 695, 172 L.Ed.2d 496, 77 U.S.L.W. 4047

Bennie Dean HERRING, Petitioner,



No. 07-513.

United States Supreme Court

January 14, 2009

Argued October 7, 2008


[129 S.Ct. 696] Syllabus [*]

Officers in Coffee County arrested petitioner Herring based on a warrant listed in neighboring Dale County's database. A search incident to that arrest yielded drugs and a gun. It was then revealed that the warrant had been recalled months earlier, though this information had never been entered into the database. Herring was indicted on federal gun and drug possession charges and moved to suppress the evidence on the ground that his initial arrest had been illegal. Assuming that there was a Fourth Amendment violation, the District Court concluded that the exclusionary rule did not apply and denied the motion to suppress. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, finding that the arresting officers were innocent of any wrongdoing, and that Dale County's failure to update the records was merely negligent. The [129 S.Ct. 697] court therefore concluded that the benefit of suppression would be marginal or nonexistent and that the evidence was admissible under the good-faith rule of United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 104 S.Ct. 3405.


When police mistakes leading to an unlawful search are the result of isolated negligence attenuated from the search, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements, the exclusionary rule does not apply. Pp. 699-704.

(a) The fact that a search or arrest was unreasonable does not necessarily mean that the exclusionary rule applies. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 223, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527. The rule is not an individual right and applies only where its deterrent effect outweighs the substantial cost of letting guilty and possibly dangerous defendants go free. Leon, 468 U.S., at 908-909, 104 S.Ct. 3405. For example, it does not apply if police acted "in objectively reasonable reliance" on an invalid warrant. Id., at 922, 104 S.Ct. 3405. In applying Leon's good-faith rule to police who reasonably relied on mistaken information in a court's database that an arrest warrant was outstanding, Arizona v. Evans, 514 U.S. 1, 14-15, 115 S.Ct. 1185, 131 L.Ed.2d 34, the Court left unresolved the issue confronted here: whether evidence should be suppressed if the police committed the error, id., at 16, n. 5, 115 S.Ct. 1185. Pp. 699-701.

(b) The extent to which the exclusionary rule is justified by its deterrent effect varies with the degree of law enforcement culpability. See, e.g., Leon, supra, at 911, 104 S.Ct. 3405. Indeed, the abuses that gave rise to the rule featured intentional conduct that was patently unconstitutional.

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See, e.g., Weeks v. United States,232 U.S. 383, 34 S.Ct. 341, 58 L.Ed. 652. An error arising from nonrecurring and attenuated negligence is far removed from the core concerns that led to the rule's adoption. Pp. 701-702.

(c) To trigger the exclusionary rule, police conduct must be sufficiently deliberate that exclusion can meaningfully deter it, and sufficiently culpable that such deterrence is worth the price paid by the justice system. The pertinent analysis is objective, not an inquiry into the arresting officers' subjective awareness. See, e.g., Leon, supra, at 922, n. 23, 104 S.Ct. 3405. Pp. 702 - 704.

(d) The conduct here was not so objectively culpable as to require exclusion. The marginal benefits that might follow from suppressing evidence obtained in these circumstances cannot justify the substantial costs of exclusion. Leon, supra, at 922, 104 S.Ct. 3405. Pp. 703 - 704.

492 F.3d 1212, affirmed.

Pamela S. Karlan, for petitioner.

Michael R. Dreeben, for respondent.

Ronald W. Wise, Montgomery, AL, Thomas C. Goldstein, Akin, Gump, Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Washington, DC, Jeffrey L. Fisher, Counsel of Record, Pamela S. Karlan, Stanford Law School, Supreme Court, Litigation Clinic, Stanford, CA, Amy Howe, Kevin K. Russell, Howe & Russell, P.C., Bethesda, MD, for petitioner.

Gregory G. Garre, Acting Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Matthew W. Friedrich, Acting Assistant Attorney General, [129 S.Ct. 698] Michael R. Dreeben, Deputy Solicitor General, Toby J. Heytens, Assistant to the Solicitor General, Deborah Watson, Attorney, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which SCALIA, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, JJ., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, SOUTER, and BREYER, JJ., joined. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SOUTER, J., joined.


Roberts, Chief Justice

The Fourth Amendment forbids "unreasonable searches and seizures," and this usually requires the police to have probable cause or a warrant before making an arrest. What

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if an officer reasonably believes there is an outstanding arrest warrant, but that belief turns out to be wrong because of a negligent bookkeeping error by another police employee? The parties here agree that the ensuing arrest is still a violation of the Fourth Amendment, but dispute whether contraband found during a search incident to that arrest must be excluded in a later prosecution.

Our cases establish that such suppression is not an automatic consequence of a Fourth Amendment violation. Instead, the question turns on the culpability of the police and the potential of exclusion to deter wrongful police conduct. Here the error was the result of isolated negligence attenuated from the arrest. We hold that in these circumstances the jury should not be barred from considering all the evidence.


On July 7, 2004, Investigator Mark Anderson learned that Bennie Dean Herring had driven to the Coffee County Sheriffs Department to retrieve something from his impounded truck. Herring was no stranger to law enforcement, and Anderson asked the county's warrant clerk, Sandy Pope, to check for any outstanding warrants for Herring's arrest. When she found none, Anderson asked Pope to check with Sharon Morgan, her counterpart in neighboring Dale County. After checking Dale County's computer database, Morgan replied that there was an active arrest warrant for Herring's failure to appear on a felony charge. Pope relayed the information to Anderson and asked Morgan to fax over a copy of the warrant as confirmation. Anderson and a deputy followed Herring as he left the impound lot, pulled him over, and arrested him. A search incident to the arrest revealed methamphetamine in Herring's pocket, and a pistol (which as a felon he could not possess) in his vehicle. App. 17-23.

There had, however, been a mistake about the warrant. The Dale County sheriffs computer records are supposed to correspond to actual arrest warrants,

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which the office also maintains. But when Morgan went to the files to retrieve the actual warrant to fax to Pope, Morgan was unable to find it. She called a court clerk and learned that the warrant had been recalled five months earlier. Normally when a warrant is recalled the court clerk's office or a judge's chambers calls Morgan, who enters the information in the sheriffs computer database and disposes of the physical copy. For whatever reason, the information about the recall of the warrant for Herring did not appear in the database. Morgan immediately called Pope to alert her to the mixup, and Pope contacted Anderson over a secure radio. This all unfolded in 10 to 15 minutes, but Herring had already been arrested and found with the gun and drugs, just a few hundred yards from the sheriffs office. Id., at 26, 35-42, 54-55.

[129 S.Ct. 699] Herring was indicted in the District Court for the Middle District of Alabama for illegally possessing the gun and drugs, violations of 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(l) and 21 U.S.C. §844(a). He moved to suppress the evidence on the ground that his initial arrest had been illegal because the warrant had been rescinded. The Magistrate Judge recommended denying the motion because the arresting officers had acted in a good-faith belief that the warrant was still outstanding. Thus, even if there were a Fourth Amendment violation, there was "no reason to believe that application of the exclusionary rule here would deter the occurrence of any future mistakes." App. 70. The District Court adopted the Magistrate Judge's recommendation, 451 F.Supp.2d 1290 (2005), and the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed, 492 F.3d 1212 (2007).

The Eleventh Circuit found that the arresting officers in Coffee County "were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing or carelessness." id., at 1218. The court assumed that whoever failed to update the Dale County sheriffs records was also a law enforcement official, but noted that "the conduct in question [wa]s a negligent failure to act, not a deliberate or tactical choice to act." Ibid. Because the error was merely

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negligent and attenuated from the arrest, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that the benefit of suppressing the evidence "would be marginal or nonexistent," ibid, (internal quotation marks omitted), and the evidence was therefore admissible under the good-faith rule of United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 104 S.Ct. 3405 (1984).

Other courts have required exclusion of evidence obtained through similar police errors, e.g., Hoay v. State, 348 Ark. 80, 86-87, 71 S.W.3d 573, 577 (2002), so we granted Herring's petition for certiorari to resolve the conflict, 552 U.S.___, 128 S.Ct. 1221, 170 L.Ed.2d 57 (2008).We now affirm the Eleventh Circuit's judgment.


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