The Application of the Exclusionary Rule to Errors Committed by Court Personnel

In Arizona v. Evans, 514 U.S. 1, 131 L. Ed. 2d 34, 115 S. Ct. 1185 (1995), the defendant was stopped by the police for a routine traffic violation. See 514 U.S. at 4. When the officer checked the defendant's driver's license using a computer data terminal in his patrol car, the information returned erroneously reported that the defendant's license had been suspended and that there was an outstanding misdemeanor warrant for his arrest. See id. Immediately, the officer arrested the defendant. See id. In a search incident to the arrest, the officer found contraband under the passenger's seat of the defendant's car. See id. At a suppression hearing, it was discovered that the "clerk of the court" failed to notify the Sheriff's Office that the warrant had been quashed. See id. The Arizona Supreme Court agreed that the evidence should be suppressed. On review, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed and in a seven-to-two decision, narrowly limited its holding as to the application of the exclusionary rule to errors committed by court personnel. Reasoning that "court clerks are not adjuncts to the law enforcement team engaged in . . . ferreting out crime [and] have no stake in the outcome of particular criminal prosecutions," the Court found that application of the exclusionary rule in these circumstances would have no significant effect on court employees responsible for informing the police that a warrant has been quashed. Id. at 15. Several concurring justices emphasized in separate opinions that the Evans holding was strictly limited to errors by court personnel. Justice Souter, for example, noted: We do not answer another question that may reach us in due course, that is, how far, in dealing with fruits of computerized error, our very concept of deterrence by exclusion of evidence should extend to the government as a whole, not merely the police, on the ground that there would otherwise be no reasonable expectation of keeping the number of resulting false arrests within an acceptable minimum limit. Evans , 514 U.S. at 18 (Souter, J., concurring).