Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Good-faith exception makes unlawful search legal under Fourth Amendment

This case reminds us that the Supreme Court tells the lower courts what to do, and that the law changes over time, which means the Court of Appeals must determine whether its precedents remain good law after the Supreme Court issues a ruling. In this search and seizure case, the law did change post-Supreme Court, but the defendant still loses the appeal.

The case is U.S. v. Gomez, decided on December 5. The police stopped Gomez after surveilling him for drug trafficking. for traffic violations. When the police stopped Gomez, he seemed nervous. Shortly after the police told Gomez they were conducting an investigation into heroin and firearms in the City of Hartford, they asked Gomez questions relating to the traffic stop, they asked if they could search the car. Gomez consented to the search, which revealed narcotics.

In 2005, the Supreme Court said that "a seizure that is justified solely by the interest in issuing a warning ticket to the driver can become unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the mission." That case was Illinois v. Caballes. A few years later, in Arizona v. Johnson, the Supreme Court said "a stop remains lawful so long as such inquiries do not measurably extend the duration of the stop." After the lower federal courts issued conflicting rulings about how long or short the stop must be to trigger Fourth Amendment protections, the Supreme Court in Rodriguez v. United States (2015) said "the critical question is not whether the unrelated investigation occurs before or after the officer issues a ticket, but whether conducting the unrelated investigation prolongs -- i.e. adds time to -- the stop." This means that "an officer does not earn bonus time to pursue an unrelated criminal investigation by completing all traffic-related tasks expeditiously because the reasonableness of a seizure . . . depends on wheat the police in fact do."

This means that, under Rodriquez, prior Second Circuit case law on this issue is abrogated, that is, it no longer remains good law. Any prolonged police stop, no matter how brief, violates the Fourth Amendment. The stop in this case, then, was unconstitutional because "from the moment Campbell first approached the black Honda, his questioning detoured from the mission of the stop (Gomez's traffic violations" to the DEA's heroin-trafficking investigation." Good new for Gomez.

Actually, bad news for Gomez. The Second Circuit (Droney, Parker and Wesley) goes on to hold that the "good faith" exception under the Fourth Amendment makes the search legal. The police can invoke the good faith" rule if they are relying on old case law that was objectively reasonable at the time but no longer remains good law. Since suppressing the evidence in those circumstances would not deter bad police work, the search will stand up in court. That is the case here, and the conviction is affirmed on appeal.

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