The Leon Exception to the Exclusionary Rule

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unlawful searches and seizures.  The Constitution does not set forth any remedy if law enforcement violates this important right so courts have developed what is called the “exclusionary rule” to help deter police from conducting unlawful searches and seizures.  This rule allows the judge to suppress any evidence obtained from an unlawful search or seizure.

Because the exclusionary rule is a judicially created remedy courts have also created an exception to the rule as outlined in United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984).  In that case an investigation began when a confidential informant notified police that defendants were engaged in the distribution of drugs.  A search warrant was issued which police executed and resulted in finding illegal drugs.  The defendants’ attorneys filed suppression motions arguing that the search warrant was invalid and did not establish probable cause and therefore the seized drugs should be suppressed.  The trial court found that the search warrant was invalid in some respects and thus some of the evidence was suppressed.  The government argued that police relied in good faith on the facially valid warrant, and therefore, the evidence should not be suppressed.

On appeal the United States Supreme Court addressed whether “the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule should be modified so as not to bar the admission of evidence seized in reasonable, good faith reliance on a search warrant that is subsequently held to be defective.”  The Supreme Court found that there should be a “good faith” exception to the exclusionary rule and recognized four situations when the good faith exception would not apply:  (1) If the magistrate or judge in issuing a warrant was misled by information in an affidavit that the affiant knew was false or would have known was false except for his reckless disregard of the truth. (2) The issuing magistrate wholly abandoned his judicial role.  (3) Where the warrant is so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable.  And, (4) when the warrant is facially deficient.

These four exceptions appear to swallow the rule and has made suppression arguments much more difficult for defendants.  Defense attorneys have to be very creative in their arguments to get around the Leon good faith exception to the exclusionary rule and our attorneys have had a lot of success in this area.  Call us for a free consultation anytime and we can give you an evaluation right over the phone.

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