Davis V. United States: Why the Supreme Court Should Preserve Judicial Integrity and Prevent Further Erosion of the Exclusionary Rule

By Campbell, Christopher A. | Faulkner Law Review, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Davis V. United States: Why the Supreme Court Should Preserve Judicial Integrity and Prevent Further Erosion of the Exclusionary Rule


Campbell, Christopher A., Faulkner Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

"In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously." (1) For example, "a court's failure to apply a newly declared constitutional rule to criminal cases pending on direct review violates basic norms of constitutional adjudication." (2) Specifically, the failure violates the principle of similar treatment of similarly situated defendants when not all defendants are benefited by a newly announced rule. (3) The similar treatment principle is relevant in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. When a court determines that a Fourth Amendment violation has occurred, the remedy may be exclusion of some or all of the evidence obtained. (4) Just such a violation is alleged to have occurred when what began as a simple traffic stop made its way to the United States Supreme Court.

In 2010, the Eleventh Circuit heard United States v. Davis (5) and declined to exclude evidence obtained by law enforcement officers who conducted a search in reliance upon the United States Supreme Court's 1981 holding in New York v. Belton. (6) The Eleventh Circuit held that, while the search violated the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights, the violation was not deliberate. The court did not apply the exclusionary rule because the police conducted a search in "objectively reasonable" (good faith) reliance on the well-settled precedent of Belton. (7) However, in 2009 Belton was substantially overruled in Arizona v. Gant. (8) The result in Davis is incorrect for two reasons. First, if the Eleventh Circuit's application of the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule is upheld, the sacred protection of privacy interests afforded by the Fourth Amendment (and validated by the exclusionary rule) will be substantially eroded. Second, the Eleventh Circuit failed to properly consider the principles that sustain the retroactive doctrine, namely similar treatment for similarly situated defendants like Gant and Belton.

The first section of this note discusses the ramifications of Gant and the split it has created among the circuit courts in applying its holding to cases pending on direct appeal. The second section traces the history and purpose of the exclusionary rule, how the rule is applied to Fourth Amendment violations, and the erosion of the exclusionary rule under cases promoting the "good faith exception." The third section explains that the retroactive doctrine should be applied to cases pending on appeal when legal precedent is declared unconstitutional during its pendency. The fourth section of this note explains why, as a matter of policy, exclusion must be applied to evidence seized from a search which was authorized by precedent, but subsequently declared unconstitutional while the case is on direct review. The final section is an attempt to predict the outcome of United States v. Davis in the United States Supreme Court.

II. THE RAMIFICATIONS OF ARIZONA V. GANT ON UNITED STATES v. DAVIS AND SIMILAR CASES

A. Facts and Analysis of Davis

In Davis, the defendant, Willie Gene Davis, a convicted felon, was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm (9) in violation of 18 U.S.C. [section] 922(g)(1). (10) The charge resulted from a routine traffic stop where Davis was a passenger in the vehicle. (11) After the arresting officer handcuffed and placed Davis and the driver of the vehicle into separate patrol cars, the officer searched the vehicle and found a revolver in Davis's jacket pocket. (12) In response to his indictment, Davis filed a motion to suppress the gun, thus preserving the issue for appeal. (13) The district court denied Davis's motion. (14) On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit rejected exclusion and noted that the Supreme Court did not declare exclusion as the remedy for the violation in Gant. (15)

The Eleventh Circuit reasoned that the evidence should not be excluded because the police conducted the search in objectively reasonable (good faith) reliance on binding precedent, and exclusion would not be a remedy even if that precedent is subsequently overturned. …

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