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U.S. Supreme Court to rule on scope of exclusionary rule

Does the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule apply to a search authorized by caselaw that has since been overruled?

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to answer this question, reviewing a decision from the 11th Circuit.

In that case, a police officer performed a search after a traffic stop that resulted in the arrest of the defendant. The officer found a gun and the defendant was charged with possession of a firearm.

Before he was convicted, he filed a motion to suppress the search results based on the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in Arizona v. Gant.

In Gant, the Court held that the warrantless search of the interior of a vehicle once the driver had been handcuffed by police and secured in the back of a patrol car violated the Fourth Amendment.

The defendant argued that pursuant to Gant, the search in his case was invalid.

But the 11th Circuit said that the police officer had conducted his search in objectively reasonable reliance on well-settled precedent in force at the time.

“In this case, [the police officer] did not deliberately violate [the defendant’s] constitutional rights. At the time of the search, we adhered to [case law] that the Supreme Court later disfavored in Gant, and a search performed in accordance with our erroneous interpretation of Fourth Amendment law is not culpable police conduct. Law enforcement officers in this circuit are entitled to rely on our decision, and ‘[p]enalizing the officer for the [court’s] error, rather than his own, cannot logically contribute to the deterrence of Fourth Amendment violations.’ …

“Because the exclusionary rule is justified solely by its potential to deter police misconduct, suppressing evidence obtained from an unlawful search is inappropriate when the offending officer reasonably relied on well-settled precedent,” the court said.

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