Davis v. U.S., No. 09-11328

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Docket NumberNo. 09-11328
Decision Date16 June 2011


No. 09-11328


Argued March 21, 2011
Decided June 16, 2011


NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.


While conducting a routine vehicle stop, police arrested petitioner Willie Davis, a passenger, for giving a false name. After handcuffing Davis and securing the scene, the police searched the vehicle and found Davis's revolver. Davis was then indicted on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm. In a suppression motion, Davis acknowledged that the search of the vehicle complied with existing Eleventh Circuit precedent interpreting New York v. Belton, 453 U. S. 454, but Davis raised a Fourth Amendment challenge to preserve the issue on appeal. The District Court denied the motion, and Davis was convicted. While his appeal was pending, this Court announced, in Arizona v. Gant, 556 U. S. __, __, a new rule governing automobile searches incident to arrests of recent occupants. The Eleventh Circuit held, under Gant, that the vehicle search at issue violated Davis's Fourth Amendment rights, but the court declined to suppress the revolver and affirmed Davis's conviction.

Held: Searches conducted in objectively reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent are not subject to the exclusionary rule. Pp. 6— 20.

(a) The exclusionary rule's sole purpose is to deter future Fourth Amendment violations, e.g., Herring v. United States, 555 U. S. 135, 141, and its operation is limited to situations in which this purpose is "thought most efficaciously served," United States v. Calandra, 414 U. S. 338, 348. For exclusion to be appropriate, the deterrence benefits of suppression must outweigh the rule's heavy costs. Under a line of cases beginning with United States v. Leon, 468 U. S. 897, the result of this cost-benefit analysis turns on the "flagrancy of the police misconduct" at issue. Id., at 909, 911. When the police exhibit "deliberate," "reckless," or "grossly negligent" disregard for Fourth

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Amendment rights, the benefits of exclusion tend to outweigh the costs. Herring, supra, at 144. But when the police act with an objectively reasonable good-faith belief that their conduct is lawful, or when their conduct involves only simple, isolated negligence, the deterrent value of suppression is diminished, and exclusion cannot "pay its way." See Leon, supra, at 909, 919, 908, n. 6; Herring, supra, at 137. Pp. 6—9.

(b) Although the search in this case turned out to be unconstitutional under Gant, Davis concedes that the officers' conduct was in strict compliance with then-binding Circuit law and was not culpable in any way. Under this Court's exclusionary-rule precedents, the acknowledged absence of police culpability dooms Davis's claim. Pp. 9— 11.

(c) The Court is not persuaded by arguments that other considerations should prevent the good-faith exception from applying in this case. Pp. 11—19.

(1) The argument that the availability of the exclusionary rule to enforce new Fourth Amendment precedent is a retroactivity issue, not a good-faith issue, is unpersuasive. This argument erroneously conflates retroactivity with remedy. Because Davis's conviction had not become final when Gant was announced, Gant applies retroactively in this case, and Davis may invoke its newly announced rule as a basis for seeking relief. See Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U. S. 314, 326, 328. But retroactive application of a new rule does not determine the question of what remedy the defendant should obtain. See Powell v. Nevada, 511 U. S. 79, 83, 84. The remedy of exclusion does not automatically follow from a Fourth Amendment violation, see Arizona v. Evans, 514 U. S. 1, 13, and applies only where its "purpose is effectively advanced," Illinois v. Krull, 480 U. S. 340, 347. The application of the good-faith exception here neither contravenes Griffith nor denies retroactive effect to Gant. Pp. 12—16.

(2) Nor is the Court persuaded by the argument that applying the good-faith exception to searches conducted in reliance on binding precedent will stunt the development of Fourth Amendment law by discouraging criminal defendants from attacking precedent. Facilitating the overruling of precedent has never been a relevant consideration in this Court's exclusionary-rule cases. In any event, applying the good-faith exception in this context will not prevent this Court's review of Fourth Amendment precedents. If precedent from a federal court of appeals or state court of last resort upholds a particular type of search or seizure, defendants in jurisdictions where the question remains open will still have an undiminished incentive to litigate the issue, and this Court can grant certiorari in one of those cases. Davis's claim that this Court's Fourth Amendment precedents

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will be effectively insulated from challenge is overstated. In many cases, defendants will test this Court's Fourth Amendment precedents by arguing that they are distinguishable. And at most, this argument might suggest that, in a future case, the Court could allow a petitioner who secures a decision overruling one of this Court's precedents to obtain suppression of evidence in that one case. Pp. 16—19. 598 F. 3d 1259, affirmed.

ALITO, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Sotomayor, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GlNSBURG, J., joined.

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Opinion of the Court







JUSTICE ALITO delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Fourth Amendment protects the right to be free from "unreasonable searches and seizures," but it is silent about how this right is to be enforced. To supplement the bare text, this Court created the exclusionary rule, a deterrent sanction that bars the prosecution from introducing evidence obtained by way of a Fourth Amendment violation. The question here is whether to apply this sanction when the police conduct a search in compliance with binding precedent that is later overruled. Because suppression would do nothing to deter police misconduct in these circumstances, and because it would come at a high cost to both the truth and the public safety, we hold that searches conducted in objectively reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent are not subject to the exclusionary rule.


The question presented arises in this case as a result of a shift in our Fourth Amendment jurisprudence on searches of automobiles incident to arrests of recent occupants.

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Under this Court's decision in Chimel v. California, 395 U. S. 752 (1969), a police officer who makes a lawful arrest may conduct a warrantless search of the arrestee's person and the area "within his immediate control." Id., at 763 (internal quotation marks omitted). This rule "may be stated clearly enough," but in the early going after Chimel it proved difficult to apply, particularly in cases that involved searches "inside [of] automobile[s] after the arrest-ees [we]re no longer in [them]." See New York v. Belton, 453 U. S. 454, 458-459 (1981). A number of courts upheld the constitutionality of vehicle searches that were "substantially contemporaneous" with occupants' arrests.1 Other courts disapproved of automobile searches incident to arrests, at least absent some continuing threat that the arrestee might gain access to the vehicle and "destroy evidence or grab a weapon."2 In New York v. Belton, this Court granted certiorari to resolve the conflict. See id., at 459-460.

In Belton, a police officer conducting a traffic stop lawfully arrested four occupants of a vehicle and ordered the arrestees to line up, un-handcuffed, along the side of the thruway. Id., at 456; see Brief for Petitioner in New York v. Belton, O. T. 1980, No. 80-328, p. 3. The officer then searched the vehicle's passenger compartment and found cocaine inside a jacket that lay on the backseat. Belton, 453 U. S., at 456. This Court upheld the search as reasonable incident to the occupants' arrests. In an opinion that repeatedly stressed the need for a "straightforward,"

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"workable rule" to guide police conduct, the Court announced "that when a policeman has made a lawful custodial arrest of the occupant of an automobile, he may, as a contemporaneous incident of that arrest, search the passenger compartment of that automobile." Id., at 459-460 (footnote omitted).

For years, Belton was widely understood to have set down a simple, bright-line rule. Numerous courts read the decision to authorize automobile searches incident to arrests of recent occupants, regardless of whether the arrestee in any particular case was within reaching distance of the vehicle at the time of...

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