Arizona v. Evans
In Arizona v. Evans, 514 U.S. 1 (1995) the United States Supreme Court limited itself to the question of whether a court employee's departure from established record keeping procedures, which caused the record of the defendant's arrest warrant to remain in the computer system after the warrant had been quashed, is the kind of error to which the exclusionary rule applies. In Evans, a Phoenix police officer observed Evans driving the wrong way on a one way street. The officer pulled Evans over and, after being told by Evans that his license had been suspended, entered Evans's name into his patrol car computer data terminal.
The computer inquiry confirmed that Evans's license had been suspended and that there was an outstanding misdemeanor warrant for his arrest. The police officer placed Evans under arrest and, while the officer hand-cuffed Evans, he smelled marijuana. The officer searched Evans's car and found a bag of marijuana. In determining whether a court employee's departure from established record keeping procedures, which caused the record of the defendant's arrest warrant to remain in the computer system after the warrant had been quashed, is the kind of error to which the exclusionary rule applies, the United States Supreme Court held that such clerical errors fell within the "good faith" exception to the exclusionary rule. Turner's case is clearly distinguishable, however, because the search and seizure in Turner's case depend on an anticipatory search warrant not authorized by rule or statute when issued.
The Supreme Court extended the holding in United States v. Leon (1984) to searches and seizures performed in good faith reliance on erroneous computer records prepared by court officials. (514 U.S. at pp. 15-16.)
The Supreme Court examined three factors in making this decision.
First, the court noted the exclusionary rule "was historically designed '"to deter police misconduct rather than to punish the errors of judges and magistrates." ( Id. at p. 11.)
Second, the court looked at whether there was any "'"evidence suggesting that judges and magistrates are inclined to ignore or subvert the Fourth Amendment or that lawlessness among these actors requires the application of the extreme sanction of exclusion."" (Ibid.)
Third, the court examined whether there was any "basis for believing that exclusion of evidence seized pursuant to a warrant would have a significant deterrent effect on the issuing judge or magistrate." (Ibid.)
Based on these three factors, the Supreme Court recognized a "categorical exception to the exclusionary rule for clerical errors of court employees." ( Id. at pp. 15-16.)
The error in the computer record existed for at least three weeks prior to defendant's arrest. ( Id. at p. 4.)
In her concurring opinion, Justice O'Connor, joined by Justices Souter and Breyer, wrote:
"While the police were innocent of the court employee's mistake, they may or may not have acted reasonably in their reliance on the recordkeeping system itself.
Surely it would not be reasonable for the police to rely, say, on a recordkeeping system, their own or some other agency's, that has no mechanism to ensure its accuracy over time and that routinely leads to false arrests, even years after the probable cause for any such arrest has ceased to exist (if it ever existed)." ( Evans, supra, 514 U.S. at pp. 16-17, conc. opn.)
The court applied the three factors as follows:
"First, . . . the exclusionary rule was historically designed as a means of deterring police misconduct, not mistakes by court employees"; "second, defendant 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"; and "finally, and most important, there is no basis for believing that application of the exclusionary rule in these circumstances will have a significant effect on court employees responsible for informing the police that a warrant has been quashed." (Evans, supra, 514 U.S. at pp. 14-15 131 L. Ed. 2d at pp. 46-47.)