How does the Inevitable Discovery Doctrine Apply to Warrantless Searches?
The Inevitable Discovery Doctrine did not Apply in the Brierley Case
Two Layton City police officers investigated a hit-and-run accident by entering a private residence with neither permission nor a warrant. They discovered evidence linking Ms. Brierley to the accident. Brierley moved to suppress the evidence, claiming the City had obtained it in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights. The City argued that the officers were in the process of getting a search warrant at the time of entering the house, and thus the evidence should be admitted under the inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule. The district court granted the suppression motion, but the Utah Court of Appeals reversed the ruling. The Supreme Court of Utah reviewed this decision for correctness.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches of both persons and property. Searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable even when officers have probable cause to search. The exclusionary rule generally requires suppression of evidence obtained in violation of constitutional protections. Evidence discovered as a result of an illegal search or seizure may sometimes be admitted under various exceptions to the exclusionary rule. Brierley’s case involved the inevitable discovery exception, which permits the admission of evidence that would have inevitably been lawfully discovered despite its actual discovery as the result of an unconstitutional search or seizure. When “the evidence in question would inevitably have been discovered without reference to the police error or misconduct, there is no nexus sufficient to provide a taint and the evidence is admissible.” Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431 (1984). This exception is necessary to ensure that the prosecution is not put in a worse position simply because of some earlier police error or misconduct. Therefore, the City must show in this case that Officers Joseph and Dixon would have sought and obtained a warrant and that the same evidence would have been discovered after receiving that warrant.
This court agreed with the district court and concluded that the City’s arguments rely too heavily on speculation. The officers simply walked into the house without a warrant when presented with the question of whether they should wait to get a warrant before entering. The court discussed that the City’s discredited argument was that the officers would have done it right if they hadn’t done it wrong. It is also unclear that a warrant would have revealed all of the same evidence that the officers uncovered as a result of the warrantless entry. The City did not meet its burden of demonstrating that the evidence would have been the same had the officers waited for a warrant. Thus, the court reversed and remanded the matter for further proceedings and reinstated the district court’s suppression order.