Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Exclusionary rule takes a gut shot

Before I had a chance to post on a SCOTUS decision issued today (see the New York Times coverage) that eliminates the exclusionary rule when civil liberties are violated accidentally because of database errors, Texas State Trooper Association attorney Don Dickson left a comment on a related Grits post that essentially sums up my concerns:
by a 5-4 vote, the SCOTUS ruled today that an erroneous crime record - in this case, a warrant which had been recalled but still showed up on someone's records - was not sufficient to trigger the exclusionary rule after a search incident to arrest on that warrant revealed that the subject, a convicted felon, was carrying a firearm and drugs.

I have mixed feelings about the ruling. On the one hand, I feel that the exclusionary rule is an indispensable protection of our civil liberties, and I don't like to see it chipped away.

On the other hand, it's hard to argue with the Chief Justice's statement to the effect that "probable" cause is not metaphysically certain cause. As long as the officer believes in good faith that there is a valid warrant for someone's arrest, then I agree with the Chief Justice that he has "probable cause" to effect the arrest, which in turn triggers the right to search the subject incident to that arrest.

But in a state in which one out of every nine people has an outstanding warrant, and in a state with a demonstrated history of doing such a poor job of keeping accurate crime records, you'd have to say that in Texas at least, the exclusionary rule has just taken a shot to the gut. And the state has been given no inducement to clean up its act.
MORE: See a New York Post column from Instapundit Glenn Reynolds criticizing the SCOTUS decision, declaring, "Being a 'public servant,' apparently, means being free to make the kind of mistakes that the rest of us aren't allowed. "


Anonymous said...

This is off of the subject but looks like this defendant is going to claim the Texas Castle Law as a defense.

Man accused of killing Dallas officer claims self-defense

10:10 PM CST on Tuesday, January 13, 2009
By SCOTT GOLDSTEIN / The Dallas Morning News

The man accused of killing a veteran police officer last week in southern Dallas says he acted in self-defense because he did not know the people at his apartment door were police.

Charles Patrick Payne, 26, claimed in a television interview Tuesday with KDFW-TV (Channel 4) at the Dallas County Jail that he heard a knock at his door, asked who it was and got no response.

"As soon as I cracked the door, boom, somebody hit me in the face with the door," Payne said. "I don't know who it is. Nobody didn't say nothing. So how was I supposed to know who these people are?

"So I reacted. I felt my life was in danger; I reacted."

Anonymous said...

Very insightful comments by Don Dickson. I don't know much about the condition of Texas' crime records but I do search legal databases for a living. Errors abound. And in the case of state court records. They are the worst offenders.

I would not want to put my freedom in the hands of any of them.

Anonymous said...

Like credit records, everyone should have access to their personal criminal, insurance, health and any any other records. It doesn't matter who has this data, we should have access. We should be able to challenge errors and require that information be removed pending the outcome of a complete investigation.

With computer databases all over the place, and the resulting errors, something must be done to make the data more accurate.
In this day and age, we have no privacy, at least we should be allowed to make sure the information about us is accurate.

I'm really sick of hearing about how whatever the police do is fine because their action was reasonable given what they thought. Law enforcement's thinking is based on what they believe to be in their own best interest when they make a mistake.

Citizens should at least be able to protect themselves when it comes to correcting data errors.

Rage Judicata said...

The problem is that whenever an exception comes along, future cases will only widen it.

The officer in Bellaire who shot a suspect who was pretty much prone did so after being told that the car was stolen? Will this operate to excuse his escalated level of force? It's a similar type of "official mistake" that made him believe that the suspect was someone he should be worried about.

Anonymous said...

If what Payne says is true, he was right to protect himself from emminent danger. The cops were wrong in this case and paid dearly for their errors; if Payne speaks the truth.

Don Dickson said...

And to 2.3 million residents of Texas, let me add this to what has already been said on this issue:

Let this be a lesson to you. When you get a speeding ticket and it says you have to show up in court on or before January 14, that is not a suggestion. If you don't have the $180 fine, show up and tell the judge you don't have it. Try to work a deal. Every judge I have ever known will grant you SOME kind of wiggle room. Don't just think that this will go away!

Yogi Berra used to say that "90% of success in life comes from showing up."

You can walk around all day with dope in your pocket if you don't do stupid things like not showing up in court when you're told to do so. And when stupid stuff happens and you wind up calling me collect from the pokey, don't expect me to take your case to the U.S. Supreme Court, because they just told you how they feel about this.

Anonymous said...

" Likewise, police are given a pass, under the doctrine of 'good faith immunity,' from having to understand the intricacies of suspects' constitutional rights: A right must be clearly established before an officer is liable for violating it, apparently on the theory that constitutional law is just too confusing for police.

But ordinary citizens are expected to comply with the tens of thousands of pages of federal criminal laws and regulations (and more at the state level) and are told that 'ignorance of the law is no excuse' - and this is true even in cases where the prosecution's theory of criminality is a novel one.

Cynics might be forgiven for thinking that, instead of a government of, by and for the people, we've got a two-tiered system in which 'public servants' instead enjoy the privileges of 'public masters.'"
So wrote right-of-center, libertarian lawprof Glenn Reynolds this morning in the New York Post. I have mixed thoughts on the ruling, but Reynold's position is hard to refute.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Go Instapundit!!

Anonymous said...

New rule:

The person who is responsible for the database error does half the time as the criminal.

This will provide a nice incentive to keep those records accurate.