Davis v. United States (09-11328)

Oral argument: Mar. 21, 2010

Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (Mar. 11, 2010)

FOURTH AMENDMENT, EXCLUSIONARY RULE, GOOD-FAITH EXCEPTION, RETROACTIVITY

Officer Curtis Miller arrested Petitioner Willie Davis for using a false name during a routine traffic stop. Incident to the arrest, Officer Miller searched the vehicle and discovered a gun. Davis was subsequently charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. At trial, Davis made a motion to suppress the gun as evidence, but the district court denied the motion and let the evidence come in. While Davis’s appeal was pending, the Supreme Court decided Arizona v. Gant, holding that searches like the one conducted in Davis’s case violate the Fourth Amendment. Davis argued on appeal that the retroactive application of Gant to his case should result in exclusion of the gun as evidence. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Davis, who now appeals to the Supreme Court. The United States maintains that the evidence of the gun should not be suppressed because Officer Miller, in objectively reasonable good faith, believed his search was proper when it was conducted. This case will determine whether retroactive application of the rule in Arizona v. Gant requires exclusion of evidence acquired under a prior rule, or whether a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule should apply.

Question presented

Whether the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies to a search authorized by precedent at the time of the search that is subsequently ruled unconstitutional.

top

Issue

Where Supreme Court precedent is retroactively applied to invalidate a search, should the results of the search be allowed into evidence as a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule?

top

Facts

In 2007, Officer Curtis Miller made a routine traffic stop of a car in which Petitioner Willie Davis was riding. See United States v. Davis, 598 F.3d 1259, 1261 (11th Cir. 2010). When Officer Miller asked Davis for his name, Davis stated that his name was "Ernest Harris," and Officer Miller subsequently arrested Davis for using a false name. See id. After placing Davis in a police car, Officer Miller searched the car Davis had been riding in and found a gun. See id. Davis was later indicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm. See id.

At trial in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Davis argued that the search of his car was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment and moved to suppress the evidence of the gun under the exclusionary rule; however, the court denied the motion and held that Officer Miller's search of the car was valid under then-existing case precedent. See Davis, 589 F.3d at 1261–62.While Davis’s appeal to the United States Court of Appeals to the Eleventh Circuit was pending, the Supreme Court decided Arizona v. Gant, 129 S. Ct. 1710 (2009).  See Davis, 589 F.3d at 1261. The Gant Court held that an officer may search a vehicle incident to an arrest only where the person arrested is within reaching distance of the vehicle or where the officer reasonably believes the vehicle contains evidence relating to the offense for which the person was arrested. See Davis, 589 F.3d at 1262.

On appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, Davis argued that the rule established in Gant invalidated the search in his case; therefore, Davis maintained that the evidence of the gun should have been excluded from trial. See Davis, 589 F.3d at 1262. The Eleventh Circuit recognized that the search in Davis’s case was illegal under the Gant decision. See id. at 1263. However, the Eleventh Circuit held that the gun was admissible evidence because Officer Miller had conducted the search in good faith, and in reliance on well-settled precedent. See id. at 1265–66.

Davis appealed the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling to the Supreme Court on the grounds that retroactive application of the decision in Gant requires exclusion of the evidence. See Brief for Petitioner, Willie Gene Davis at 7–10. The United States contends that the exclusionary rule is meant to deter future police misconduct, and therefore that evidence collected in good faith in the past should be admitted. See Brief for Respondent, United States of America at 6. The Supreme Court must decide whether retroactive application of Gant requires exclusion of evidence, or whether a good-faith exception will apply. See Davis v. United States, 131 S. Ct. 502 (2010).

top

Discussion

The Supreme Court must decide whether retroactive application of its decision in Arizona v. Gant requires the suppression of evidence resulting from an invalid search. Davis contends that retroactive application of Gant should result in the suppression of evidence to adequately protect Fourth Amendment rights. The United States argues that the evidence should be admissible as a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. The case will likely affect Fourth Amendment claims by private citizens and the manner in which the police conduct future searches.

The National Association of Federal Defenders ("NAFD") argues that a ruling in favor of Davis would protect citizens' Fourth Amendment right against illegal searches and seizures. See Brief of Amicus Curiae The National Association of Federal Defenders in Support of Petitioner at 8. NAFD reasons that a ruling in favor of the United States would stifle constitutional challenges, because a criminal defendant who is unable to suppress evidence in light of new Court holdings will have little incentive to appeal to higher courts. See id. at 9. NAFD further maintains that the United States would retain its incentive to bring suit because the United States would continue to push for court decisions establishing more permissive rules for searches. See id. at 9–10. Thus, NAFD maintains that a ruling in favor of the United States would cause Fourth Amendment case law to become less protective of Fourth Amendment rights. See id.

Wayne County, Michigan, on the other hand, contends that a ruling in favor of Davis would not deter invalid police searches. ­See Brief of Amicus Curiae Wayne County, Michigan in Support of Respondent at 12. Wayne County maintains that police officers can only be expected to follow the law as established by the Court, as opposed to foreseeing whether the Court will change the law. See id. at 15. Therefore, Wayne County argues that applying the exclusionary rule in cases where the Court's decision is applied retroactively would have no effect on the actions of police officers, and Fourth Amendment rights would not gain any protections. See id. Maryland and twenty-eight other states (collectively "Maryland") also contend that application of the good-faith exception would strengthen Fourth Amendment protections because courts could change evidence rules without fear that evidence collected under the prior rule would be excluded. See Brief of Amici Curiae the States of Maryland, et al. in Support of Respondent at 18.

Additionally, Wayne County argues that a ruling in favor of Davis fosters disrespect for the law and the criminal justice system. See Brief of Wayne County, Michigan at 12–13. Maryland explains that where officers faithfully follow the established rule when conducting searches, but later learn that the fruits of these searches are inadmissible due to some unforeseen change in the law, the officers' confidence in their own actions is undermined. See Brief of Maryland at 18.

On the other hand, the NAFD contends that applying the exclusionary rule would not be inequitable. See Brief of NAFD at 4–5. The NAFD maintains that those responsible for police training were warned that the practice invalidated by Gant might be unconstitutional and should be avoided. See id. Thus, the NAFD argues that a ruling in favor of Davis would discourage "reckless disregard of constitutional requirements." See id. at 7.

top

Analysis

In Arizona v. Gant, the Supreme Court held that an officer may search a vehicle incident to an arrest only where the person arrested is within reaching distance of the vehicle, or where the officer reasonably believes the vehicle contains evidence relating to the offense for which the person was arrested. 129 S. Ct. 1710, 1723 (2009). The Court must now decide whether the retroactive application of Gant to Davis's case should result in suppression of evidence resulting from a search that would be invalid if conducted under the current law.

The exclusionary rule prohibits the introduction of evidence in a criminal trial if the evidence was obtained in an illegal search or seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. See Brief for Respondent the United States at 6. The good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule may apply in situations where an officer reasonably relies on law that is valid during a search but is later overturned. See id. at 6. If applied, the good-faith exception allows the evidence to be entered in the criminal trial because, even though the evidence was obtained unconstitutionally, the police officer did not know the evidence was obtained unconstitutionally at the time of the search. See id. at 6. Petitioner Willie Davis argues that the exclusionary rule should control the result of this case, but Respondent the United States argues that the good-faith exception applies. See Brief for Petitioner, Willie Gene Davis at 10; Brief for Respondent at 6–7.

Whether the Exclusionary Rule Should Apply

Davis argues that it is well-established precedent that when the Court announces a new decision, the ruling applies to “all cases not yet final” at the time the decision is handed down. See Brief for Petitioner at 13. Furthermore, Davis maintains that retroactive application of a new rule results in the defendant receiving the benefit of the new decision. See id. at 12–13. Because Davis’s case was on direct appeal and thus “not yet final” when the Court decided Gant, Davis argues that he should receive the benefit of the Gant decision through the exclusion of the evidence. See id. Furthermore, Davis contends that the good-faith exception should not apply in his case because the prior decisions which would mandate use of the good-faith exception concerned the use of the exclusionary rule to enforce existing law, as opposed to promoting development of new law. See id. at 30.

On the other hand, the United States argues that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule should apply when officers engage in objectively reasonable conduct, and that Officer Curtis Miller acted within the bounds of then-current law when he searched Davis’s car. See Brief for Respondent at 13, 18–19. The United States contends that Davis’s interpretation of the exclusionary rule would affect police officers’ job performance by making it harder for officers to rely on precedent. See id. at 24.

The United States further argues that the purpose of the exclusionary rule is to deter future police misconduct, not remedy Fourth Amendment violations. See Brief for Respondent at 6. According to the United States, the exclusionary rule is not a required remedy for Fourth Amendment violations because the admission of evidence is not in itself a violation of the Fourth Amendment. See id. at 6. Rather, the United States claims that the exclusionary rule should only be used when the deterrent effect of the exclusionary rule outweighs societal costs, such as the possibility of letting guilty individuals go free. See id. at 6. The United States argues that applying the exclusionary rule in this instance would have little to no deterrent effect on future police misconduct; indeed, Officer Miller was in full compliance with the law when he conducted the search. See id. at 18.

Davis counters by arguing that the exclusionary rule has the alternate purpose of enforcing the Constitution. See Brief for Petitioner at 31. Davis asserts that by giving defendants an opportunity to have their convictions overturned, the exclusionary rule creates an incentive for defendants to challenge and subsequently change the law. See id. at 32. If the government always wins, then defendants will not try to appeal their cases, and the law would stagnate. See id. at 33. Finally, Davis asserts that other doctrines may preserve the conviction even if the exclusionary rule is applied, thereby minimizing the social cost of setting guilty individuals free. See id. at 51.

Affecting Fourth Amendment Jurisprudence

The United States proposes that plaintiffs may use civil actions to effect change in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, instead of relying upon the exclusionary rule. See Brief for Respondent at 34. The United States argues that plaintiffs may bring suits against municipalities for searches violating the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights. See id. at 34–35.

Davis answers that civil suits seeking damages cannot effectively change Fourth Amendment jurisprudence because of the doctrine of qualified immunity. See Brief for Petitioner at 39. Davis argues that, under this doctrine, a plaintiff in a civil suit can only recover damages if the constitutional violation is clearly established at the time of the search. See id. at 39–40. Davis concludes that in the situation where the search is retroactively invalidated, the civil case will be fruitless because the search is actually legal at the time it is performed. See id. at 40.

Exclusionary Rule vs. Retroactivity Jurisprudence

According to Davis, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit created a new exception to the exclusionary rule, namely that the rule does not apply when police rely on unequivocal but incorrect circuit court precedent. See Brief for Petitioner at 20. Davis characterizes this new rule as a modified Linkletter retroactivity test. See Brief for Petitioner at 20; Linkletter v. Walker, 381 U.S. 618 (1965). According to the Linkletter test, use of the exclusionary rule depends on a case-by-case balance of the deterrent effect of the exclusionary rule versus the cost of releasing criminals. See Brief for Petitioner at 18. Davis argues that the new rule adopted by the Eleventh Circuit is similar to Linkletter because the Eleventh Circuit weighed reliance interests against deterrence interests in reaching its decision. See id. at 20. Davis concludes that the Eleventh Circuit’s rule is untenable because the Court has already rejected the Linkletter rule. See id. at 19.

The United States counters by claiming that Davis has confused retroactivity and the exclusionary rule. See Brief for Respondent at 42. The United States argues that retroactivity governs when a criminal defendant is eligible to seek relief in his case, but the exclusionary rule is a form of relief for Fourth Amendment violations. See id. 42–43. According to the United States, issues of retroactivity are decided based on factors that include the judicial process, equitable treatment of litigants, and principals of finality. See id. at 43. However, issues regarding the exclusionary rule are decided based on whether the deterrent effects justify the social cost. See id. Thus, the United States argues that Davis cannot rely upon retroactivity case law to determine the outcome in this case, which concerns the exclusionary rule. See id.

Article III Requirements

Davis asserts that application of the exclusionary rule is required by Article III of the United States Constitution. See Brief for Petitioner at 22. Davis first argues that if the exclusionary rule does not apply, then a court announcing a new rule would be deciding cases prospectively: only future cases would be affected by the new rule. See id. at 23. Davis contends that this violates Article III because judges only have the power to interpret the law, not make prospective changes to it. See id.

The United States counters by arguing that a federal court can determine if the Fourth Amendment was violated before deciding whether the officer committed the violation in good faith. See Brief for Respondent at 33. Essentially, the United States argues that the Fourth Amendment issue is separate from the good-faith exception issue, and that courts clearly have jurisdiction under Article III, regardless of the good-faith exception issue. See id.

Standing Requirements

One requirement for standing is that the court must be able to redress the defendant’s injury. See Brief for Petitioner at 26. Davis argues that if the exclusionary rule does not apply, then the defendant appealing his decision will always lack standing because evidence will never be excluded retroactively, and the government will always win. See id. at 25. Davis argues that this result would be unfair and that courts of appeal should be able to redress wrongs. See id.

The United States responds by arguing that standing is almost always met in evidence cases because the conviction is an injury, which is linked to the challenged evidence, and the injury can be redressed if the appellate court reverses. See Brief for Respondent at 34. The United States analogizes the good-faith exception to the harmless error doctrine and concludes that both have the same effect (the defendant loses), and yet neither results in the defendant lacking standing. See id.

top

Conclusion

This case will determine whether retroactive application of the Supreme Court's holding in Arizona v. Gant requires exclusion of relevant evidence collected by police, or whether a good-faith exception should apply. Davis contends that the exclusionary rule should apply to his case because the search of his car violated the rule announced in Gant. The United States counters by arguing that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule should apply because Officer Miller followed then-current law when conducting the search. This case will affect the extent of Fourth Amendment protections and future police conduct.

top

Authors

Prepared by: Sara Myers and John Sun

Edited by: Joanna Chen

Additional Sources

· Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr: Good-Faith Exception for Changing Law Likely Headed to the Supreme Court (July 27, 2010)

· American University Law Review, Ross M. Oklewicz: Expanding the Scope of the Good-Faith Exception to the Exclusionary Rule to Include a Law Enforcement Officer’s Reasonable Reliance on Well-Settled Case Law that is Subsequently Overruled

top

Written by 

Edited by