Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Herring: Good Faith Exception applies to mistake in records of another county

In U.S. v. Herring, No. 06-10795 (July 17, 2007), the Court held that when officers in one jurisdiction check with employees of a law enforcement agency in another jurisdiction, and are – mistakenly, it turns out – told that there is an outstanding warrant for an individual, and the officers arrest the person, and a search yields contraband, the exclusionary rule does not require suppression of the evidence, because of the "good faith exception" of U.S. v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984). The mistake occurred because the agency in the other jurisdiction had failed to note in its records that the warrant had been recalled.
The Court rejected the government’s argument that the case was governed by Arizona v. Evans, 514 U.S. 1 (1995), where the good faith exception applied to a mistake by a court employee. Here the mistake was made by a law enforcement officer, and Evans did not reach such circumstances.
The Court, however, found that the policies recognized in Leon would be better served by not applying the exclusionary rule. First, the deterrent benefits of excluding the evidence would not be present. The person who mistakenly failed to record that Herring’s warrant had been recalled was "negligent." "Deterrents work best where the targeted conduct results from conscious decision making, because only if the decision maker considers the possible results of her actions can she be deterred." In addition, law enforcement agencies have inherent reasons to keep good records, which need not be supplemented by exclusionary rules. Further, no deterrent effect would be served, because officers in one jurisdiction have little concern about the prospect of frustrating prosecutions in another jurisdiction.
The Court noted that if faulty record-keeping became endemic in a particular county, officers in another county might have a "difficult time" establishing that their reliance on this county’s records was objectively reasonable.