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Gov't Database Errors Leading To Unconstitutional Searches? 272

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can-trust-us dept.
Wired is running a story about a case the Supreme Court will be hearing on Tuesday that relates to searches based on erroneous information in government databases. In the case of Herring vs. US 07-513, the defendant was followed and pulled over based on a records indicating he had a warrant out for his arrest. Upon further review, the local county clerk found the records were in error, and the warrant notification should have been removed months prior. Unfortunately for Herring, he had already been arrested and his car searched. Police found a small amount of drugs and a firearm, for which Herring was subsequently prosecuted. Several friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed to argue this case, some calling for "an accuracy obligation on law enforcement agents [PDF] who rely on criminal justice information systems," and others defending such searches as good-faith exceptions [PDF].
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Gov't Database Errors Leading To Unconstitutional Searches?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I don't understand, shouldn't any evidence obtained under a false warrant be unusable?

    • by liquidpele (663430) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @11:42AM (#25264275) Journal
      The problem is that at the time of search, the warrant was not false. It was a real warrant, it just had not been removed yet. Remember, Warrants don't mean he will be prosecuted, they only allow you to arrest or search, they could choose not to charge him later when the error was found.

      Now, being liberal, I think that they should throw out the new charges as the warrant should not have been in effect due to no error on the victim's part. However, this will be an interesting one to watch the courts on to see what their logic is.
      • is my receipt for your receipt."

        "It's not my fault that Buttle's heart condition didn't appear on Tuttle's file!" [wordpress.com]

        "I understand this concern on behalf of the taxpayers.
        People want value for money. That's why we always
        insist on the principal of Information Retrieval
        charges. It's absolutely right and fair that those
        found guilty should pay for their periods of dete

      • If a judge cleared that warrant, isn't it invalid anyway? Essentially we are talking about a notification message in the computer in some cops cruiser, and nothing more.

        • In many places, the prosecutor can remove a bench warrant in certain situations (usually for misdemeanors) - which is a case that would fit this situation pretty well if the prosecutor simply forgot or didn't clear it correctly from the system.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 05, 2008 @01:23PM (#25265229)

        The real problem is that the potential for abuse is high.

        "Oops," isn't a defense if you or I break the law because if it was we would all claim everything we did was accidental. It seems to me the same should apply to rights violations committed by the government. Otherwise we'll see governments "accidentally" forget to remove warrants all the time.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by a whoabot (706122)

          "Breaking the law" involves intentionality or at least negligence which is considered to involve intentionality in maybe not a common-sense notion of the term. So your statement '"Oops," isn't a defense if you or I break the law because if it was we would all claim everything we did was accidental' is a strange one.

          If you did break the law and were already determined finally to have broken the law, then you don't have a legal defense anymore, so of course you can't say "Oops" as a legal defense. But if yo

        • Exactly. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Irvu (248207) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @11:40PM (#25269555)

          This is exactly why historically an illegal search that nets evidence of other real crimes invalidates the evidence. Historically the courts have reasoned that the "oops" power would be abused and thus lead to problems. Now if they would only do so with drug laws and seizure we'd be better off.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by mcgrew (92797) *

            Historically the courts have reasoned that the "oops" power would be abused and thus lead to problems. Now if they would only do so with drug laws and seizure we'd be better off.

            If there were no drug laws we would be better off, too. The drug laws, like alcohol Prohibition, cause the very problems they purport to solve.

            Marijuana leads to harder drugs
            I know people who became crack addicts because the non-addictive marijuana stays in your system for over a month, while cocaine can't be detected by employers'

      • by phorm (591458) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @03:33PM (#25266355) Journal

        Well, a warrant that exists under conditions that it should not seems to be pretty much false in my book. It was invalid, and the conditions under which it was created were not longer valid (expired).

        The problem with "good faith" in many of these cases is that it allows the rules to be stretched, which can lead to abuse. How many convenient "mistakes" would be needed before they start to seem "too convenient"

      • by slashqwerty (1099091) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @04:16PM (#25266703)

        The problem is that at the time of search, the warrant was not false. It was a real warrant, it just had not been removed yet.

        If you check out the actual petition to the court you will see the warrant was removed five months earlier. Mr. Herring lived on the border between three different counties so the police sent the warrant to all three counties. When the warrant was recalled there was a "breakdown...someplace within the Sheriff's department".

        From the article:

        At issue is the case of Bennie Herring, an Alabama man who drove to the police station in July 2004 to try to retrieve items from an impounded pickup truck. A Coffee County cop recognized him, asked the clerk to check the database for outstanding warrant.

        None was found, so the investigator asked the clerk to call the neighboring Dale county clerk to see if it had a warrant for Herring.

        The Dale county clerk found a warrant for Herring in their database, so the Coffee County cops set out after Herring after asking the other county to fax the warrant over.

        When the clerk went to fetch the paper file she could not find the warrant. The warrant clerk called the officer to inform him of the issue but the officer was already on the scene and had made the arrest (despite Mr. Herring informing the officer that no warrant existed).

        I think it's also interesting to note how Anderson (the cop) recognized Mr. Herring. From the footnote on page 4 of the petition [abanet.org] (page 13 in the PDF):

        Among other things, petitioner had repeatedly alleged to the district attorney that Anderson was involved in the unsolved murder of a local teenager. Shortly before the events leading to petitioner's arrest, Inspector Anderson and another officer had appeared at petitioner's house, pressing him to drop his complaints.

      • by sjames (1099) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @05:03PM (#25267073) Homepage

        The problem is that at the time of search, the warrant was not false. It was a real warrant, it just had not been removed yet. Remember, Warrants don't mean he will be prosecuted, they only allow you to arrest or search, they could choose not to charge him later when the error was found. Now, being liberal, I think that they should throw out the new charges as the warrant should not have been in effect due to no error on the victim's part. However, this will be an interesting one to watch the courts on to see what their logic is.

        The warrant was expired, the currency of it was false. It's current effect was false.

        Suppressing the evidence in this case provides several things. First, it removes an incentive to improperly leave warrants in the system deliberately. It also acknowledges that the search should never have happened by making it as if it hadn't (helps to make the victim whole).

        Since the officers involved acted in good faith, they shouldn't be sanctioned in any way (including a civil suit). The department that negligently failed to remove the expired warrant from the system should face sanctions including a suit by the victim (for obvious reasons) and potentially a suit by the police department that relied on the bad information (since they spent a non-zero amount of time and money performing a stop and search that will be nullified based on bad information).

        Unless all of that happens, there is zero incentive to avoid screwing people over through negligence.

    • by LifesABeach (234436) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:31PM (#25264749)

      I RTFA. Given that this violation is at the constitutional level. The evidence obtained illegally will be thrown out; it may have to go a higher level to do it. In Alabama, guns in cars is "normal", along with fishing rods. As for the "Evidence" found in his car, I'm amazed that law enforcement found so little; for the amount of time, money, and resources spent. To all intents, and purposes, now would be a good time for those involved to say, "I'm sorry", and maybe go find someone like Bin Laden; a real bad guy's bad guy.

      "Dead or Alive, You're Coming With Me" - Robo Cop

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mysidia (191772)

        In Alabama, guns in cars is "normal",

        It may be normal, but it is also illegal in circumstances.

        If the individual has been a convicted felon in the past, then possessing a gun in their car, even for "hunting" is a crime (illegal possession of a firearm).

      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by LWATCDR (28044)

        "In Alabama, guns in cars is "normal", along with fishing rods. "
        Not if your a convicted felon. Most convicted felons are banned from ever owning a gun.
        Frankly a convicted felon with meth and a gun is probably a pretty bad guy.
        Should he be let off? Well that is for the supreme court to decided.

    • Not always. There are exceptions in some cases for inevitability of discovery. The courts don't treat this lightly, though, and in this case, there does not appear to be anything indicating an inevitable discovery of the evidence. They weren't actively looking for the defendant, and they weren't following his car specifically for counter-drug operations.

    • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @02:34PM (#25265885)

      I don't understand, shouldn't any evidence obtained under a false warrant be unusable?

      It wasn't a search warrant; it was an arrest warrant.

      Warrants are not required under any circumstances to search vehicles on public property.

      Vehicles are only deemed to have minimal 4th ammendment protection; and can be stopped and examined upon any reasonable suspicion of any type of criminal activity.

      Any place in the vehicle where weapons are likely to be stored may be searched freely.

      Any other place in the vehicle whatsoever may be searched with probable cause, with no warrant.

      • by Miseph (979059) on Monday October 06, 2008 @01:57AM (#25270181) Journal

        That is not actually resolved. There are currently several justices (Scalia, Thomas and Roberts being the big ones) who undoubtedly believe that to be so and have written extensively to that effect, but so far that has not been upheld as "the way it is". There are justices (Ginsburg, Souter and Stevens being the most consistent and predictable) who feel that a vehicle is entitled to the same search protections as a home ("effects" are also covered), regardless of what property it is on... with the caveat that if something is visible in a vehicle from public property without entering or unreasonably examining the vehicle it is (as with one's home) fair game.

        In any case, I will be surprised if this even makes it to the Supreme Court. I expect that the evidence will be excluded (and the charges inevitably dropped) long before then. I will be completely shocked if the search is upheld.

    • by Valdrax (32670) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @03:11PM (#25266191)

      I don't understand, shouldn't any evidence obtained under a false warrant be unusable?

      Sadly, not necessarily. The "good faith" doctrine says that evidence seized by officers relying on a facially valid warrant that turns out to later be invalid is still usable in court. The warrant must be issued by a neutral, third-party magistrate and the officers cannot have knowingly or recklessly (not negligently) given bad information for purposes of establishing probable cause, but the 4th Amendment is meant to shield against police misconduct and not simple error in the issuance of warrants.

      See United States v. Leon [findlaw.com] , 468 U.S. 897 (1984) for the full, gory details. Additionally, the government in this case also relies on Arizona v. Evans, 514 U.S. 1 (1995) which states, basically, that the exclusionary rule did not require suppression of evidence obtained through a police officer's good-faith reliance on an error made by a clerk of the court that had issued a warrant for a person's arrest.

      I'm sad to say it, but that latter case is *really* on point for this issue, and EPIC does a miserable job of trying to argue against it. The quality of legal writing between the two briefs is night and day. One takes a line of nearly eighty cases and rigorously applies the facts of the case to the rules found therein, and the other references two cases (one only in the concurrence) and makes a bunch of policy arguments about database systems completely unrelated to that used by the sheriff's office in the case at hand.

      EPIC fail.

  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Sunday October 05, 2008 @11:34AM (#25264195)

    I am against erroneous data. I don't think anyone would be for it (except to manufacture evidence).

    So what's the big deal with it? I'll tell you.

    The big deal is that if Mr. Herring wasn't an unlicensed gun-toting drug user, the detrimental effects of the bad data would be obvious. But since Mr. Herring is actually a "bad guy" and Americans love to see bad guys put away, it makes it hard for anyone to sympathize with him.

    The ACLU couldn't have picked a worse poster child in this case.

    • by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @11:42AM (#25264271)

      The ACLU couldn't have picked a worse poster child in this case.

      He could have been found with terrorist propaganda and child porn in his car. A fair number of people actually do have sympathy for his kind of case. A lot of people think drug laws are absurd and some people either don't believe in gun control or at least think it has gotten out of hand.

    • by hedwards (940851) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:01PM (#25264481)

      It's really not a bad choice. Most of the people opposed to the ACLU do so because they don't care to admit that they might be wrong in their interpretation of the constitution. Many of them refuse to admit that there's more than one interpretation of the 2nd amendment that comes from reading it. Others want protection from the state intruding on their religion, but want their religion to intrude on the state.

      In this case it's important for the basic reason that it's a test case. Is an illegal warrant the basis for a legal search or is it to be considered illegal and the individual allowed a free pass. If you think about it, it is a terribly important issue because of the possibility for abuse.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Solandri (704621)

        It's really not a bad choice. Most of the people opposed to the ACLU do so because they don't care to admit that they might be wrong in their interpretation of the constitution. Many of them refuse to admit that there's more than one interpretation of the 2nd amendment that comes from reading it.

        The problem with the ACLU's interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is that in all the other Amendments of the Bill of Rights, the ACLU chooses an interpretation which favors citizens rights over that of the state. Bu

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:02PM (#25264489)

      If they HADN'T found anything on Mr. Herring, what do you think would have happened? Maybe a cursory apology. Probably not. His inconvenience for arrest and search? I suppose he could in theory have cause for a civil action, but against who? The cops who arrested him in good faith they had good information? The county clerk who made a minor paperwork error that went undetected for months? Please. Who's going to bring that case? And how does it not get tossed before a court even cares about the question of whether the information was bad?

      Like it or not, if there's going to be a test case on whether it's OK to conduct searches based on "oops!" information, it HAS to be someone who had something to lose--where the results of the bad search end up in court. So it has to be something where something illegal was found in the search.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by darkmeridian (119044)

      You've answered your own question. Unreasonable searches and seizures on innocent people don't result in charges brought against the victim. It's always the criminals who get prosecuted and who need the protection of the Constitution. Also note that the First Amendment is almost always invoked by those we want to censor.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Unfortunately it is not always just the criminals who get prosecuted. Plenty of innocent people get prosecuted. Something like 25% of court cases end in a not guilty result. It's estimated that something like 5% of guilty verdicts are in error. If you take away these protections you are denying innocent people a chance to clear themselves.

        As far as wanting to censor people, the only cases that I am in favor of with that is explicit child pornography and military secrets in time of war. Otherwise I can see n

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Valdrax (32670)

          Something like 25% of court cases end in a not guilty result. It's estimated that something like 5% of guilty verdicts are in error. If you take away these protections you are denying innocent people a chance to clear themselves.

          I'd like to see a source for your statistics. My law professors say that very few criminal cases get a not guilty result because the prosecutor's office has the option of simply not pursuing a weak case, and I'd *love* to see the methodology used to arrive at a "5% of guilty verdicts are in error" number.

      • by loupgarou21 (597877) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @05:29PM (#25267249)

        At this point there are so many laws on the books that cover what many people think of as every-day activities that most people are violating laws on a day-to-day basis without even knowing it.

        At this point, it's not about finding the person that violated the law, it's finding the law the person violated.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by joocemann (1273720)

        You've answered your own question. Unreasonable searches and seizures on innocent people don't result in charges brought against the victim. It's always the criminals who get prosecuted and who need the protection of the Constitution. Also note that the First Amendment is almost always invoked by those we want to censor.

        The day that you are wrongly imposed upon or being told to shut up will be the day that you realize your generalizations are reckless.

    • by gravesb (967413) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:28PM (#25264719) Homepage
      That's the problem with the exclusionary rule. Except in rare cases where Section 1983 applies, the only people who have standing to challenge a bad warrant or an unconstitutional search are bad actors. If innocent people could take action and get damages for unconstitutional searches, then the police would be much more careful. If the police never take the evidence to court, there is no real action you can take; even if they pull you naked out of bed or ruin a party in front of guests, possibly ruining your reputation.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Mod parent up. The notion of "soverign immunity" of the government is what makes defending rights for criminals so important, because the government has generally held that those who are innocent cannot have "grievances" to petition for redress.

    • But since Mr. Herring is actually a "bad guy" and Americans love to see bad guys put away, it makes it hard for anyone to sympathize with him.

      The very foundation of the "Rule of Law" is that public sympathy or lack there of is irrelevant to the law. When the courts become a popularity contest your have OJ Simpson walking away from a murder as a free man.
    • I am for erroneous data. Facts are overrated.

    • by dave562 (969951)
      The other side of the argument is that once you have been convicted of a felony, you can never escape the system. Some people have the perception that the justice system serves the purpose of steering people who are on the wrong track back onto the right one. The reality is that once someone has been convicted of a felony, they are forever in the system. The system isn't there to reform them but to punish them for the rest of their lives. The idea of reform has been tossed out the window. The perceptio
    • If I get pulled over for an incorrect warrant and searched, they wouldn't find drugs and guns in may care except if they were legally obtained. And once they figured out the warrant was bad there would be nothing else for them to do. And I wouldn't be in the news, and I would make even a worse ACLU poster child because nothing happened to me.

      Now what would help is if I was falsely arrested due to a computer glitch then beaten to a pulp in jail while waiting for it to get sorted out. And if they held on to m

  • IANAL (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Zironic (1112127) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @11:35AM (#25264201)

    IANAL but I'd that this was unwarranted because otherwise it could easily be exploited.

    • Re:IANAL (Score:5, Funny)

      by MrNaz (730548) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:09PM (#25264553) Homepage

      I would agree with but I don't your point.

    • by Eil (82413)

      IANAL but I'd that this was unwarranted because otherwise it could easily be exploited.

      Courts have almost always ruled that evidence obtained illegally (i.e., without a search warrant or probable cause) cannot be used in a trial. Although I'm sure there have been plenty of exceptions, this guy has a slim chance of getting convicted unless he was also high at the time or something.

      However, the problem here is that there's no incentive for police to obey the law and constitution when going about their daily b

  • by nightfire-unique (253895) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @11:45AM (#25264313)

    If I make a mistake on my taxes, there are penalties. Some of these may be severe, including jail time.

    IANAL, so could someone provide to me the list of penalties or sanctions which could be assigned to the decision makers in this case?

    It would make me feel better knowing we're all equal under the eyes of the law.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Cite please? I've make honest mistakes on my taxes several times, some quite major running into the thousands of dollars on the net result in my favor. The IRS caught these, and issued a notice that I owed them the difference. The worst penalty I've run into is a fine that totaled something like $50.

       

  • by elecmahm (1194167) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @11:53AM (#25264389)
    My brother-in-law works at Lowe's, and happened to take a weekday off one week, only to find out through a friend that some US Marshall's were there looking for him (w/ shotguns in tow). -- He sought legal counsel immediately (smart!). -- Turns out, there had been a clerical error when he paid a court fee on a rather mundane charge, they mispelled his name in the court system, and confused him with someone who was on the loose for murder charges! (his lawyer filed the necessary paperwork to get them to realize their mistake though). -- If he had been someone who didn't have the money to get a lawyer though, this could have ended much more badly!
    • by moteyalpha (1228680) * on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:19PM (#25264641) Homepage Journal

      If I had a killer robot and I just entered coordinates at random, I am sure I would eventually get all the bad guys, however there might not be any good guys left either.

      It would seem that like everybody, you should be cautious of how you use the power you have and if you cannot exercise good judgment, you should not have that power.

      Clearly these people are not careful with their power and should therefore have less of it. If a person carries a gun, ( and police do ) then they have additional responsibilities of action that include NOT doing more damage than good, whether it is to the rights of individuals or innocent bystanders. Just because they have uniforms and are certified by the ( State, Local, Schoolboard, FBI, ATF ) they can still do damage and what deterrent is loss of income compared to years in jail. It seems that if a policeman kills somebody by accident, they are assumed to have more rights to act blindly than anybody else when it comes to their responsibility for damage.

      I was riding with my daughter the other day and a policeman in a small town stopped me for something and I can't even remember his excuse, but he came to the door of my car with his gun drawn and pointed at my head. I got no ticket, but he did so much damage to my opinion of this country that I find it hard to support any police if they are allowed to wander around threatening people with weapons that they should not be allowed to carry. As a citizen, if I walked up to a stranger and pointed a gun at their head, I would likely go to jail for a long time. They are allowed to do that and just say, "oops, my bad".

      • In my State, the police are completely immune from any legal consequences arising from a false arrest. I had a relative get arrested a couple of years ago because when she moved here from another State, that State's DMV erroneously transferred records claiming that her license was expired. Nobody bothered to send her a letter or otherwise inform her of this problem. Instead, an arrest warrant was issued, and she was hauled off by several cops. She was very badly treated by these assholes, and overheard some
  • by lysergic.acid (845423) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @11:55AM (#25264417) Homepage

    isn't it customary for the courts to throw out illegally obtained evidence? it's my understanding that this is done so as to discourage prosecutors & law enforcement from doing illegal/warrantless searches.

    if the courts routinely allowed illegally obtained evidence/testimony/etc. to be used, then it would encourage law enforcement professionals to encroach on the rights of individuals if they think it will get a conviction. if you don't throw out confessions obtained through torture, then law enforcement will start using torture to gain confessions--it's the same principle.

    i know that many people hold personal prejudices against drug users, but a corruption of justice is a corruption of justice, regardless of who it happens to. it just happens to drug users and low income individuals more often because they can't defend themselves, and they have more run ins with the law.

    one of my good friends in Chicago was a former heroin addict. he was a really friendly guy and a kind and honest person. however, he started using heroin at a very young age. this inevitably landed him in jail. he's in his late 20's now and has been through the system many times on drug possession charges (never for drug dealing or theft, or anything other than drug possession). and he's recounted to me several occasions where he's been wrongly imprisoned due to clerical error.

    one time in particular he'd just finished serving time for a drug offense (i think it was something like a 6 month sentence), and the very weekend he got out he was picked up again and taken back to jail. he hadn't broken any laws, but the patrol vehicle computer showed that he had an outstanding warrant. apparently the warrant was issued while he was doing time for his last sentence. the warrant was for an offense registered in a different county, and so they didn't realize that he was already in prison. he knew that there'd been a mistake, but he couldn't make bail and ended up having to spend another few weeks in jail until it was shown that he'd been falsely imprisoned and the warrant shouldn't have been issued in the first place.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Toll_Free (1295136)

      The problem is, this wasn't an illegal search and seizure. It isn't entrapment, it isn't any of that.

      Based upon good faith and probable cause, the vehicle was searched.

      I know of a person who had a warrant issued for his arrest for parole violation. Problem was, he HADN'T BEEN RELEASED FROM PRISON YET!!!

      Doesn't matter, as the warrant was issued in good faith. Hard to be released when your showing a warrant out for your arrest. He did another couple months, expired his sentence, and then went to the count

      • Based upon good faith and probable cause, the vehicle was searched.

        From the article:

        At issue is the case of Bennie Herring, an Alabama man who drove to the police station in July 2004 to try to retrieve items from an impounded pickup truck. A Coffee County cop recognized him, asked the clerk to check the database for outstanding warrant.

        None was found, so the investigator asked the clerk to call the neighboring Dale county clerk to see if it had a warrant for Herring.

        The Dale county clerk found
      • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:46PM (#25264887)

        Your post is an excellent argument for why those who claim more authority than the average citizen should never be allowed to use "good faith" alone to excuse a mistake. With the extra power must come extra responsibility to get things right, and the rule for such people must be "if in doubt, don't". The consequences of any system not biased strongly in that direction are far worse than any individual mistake. It's just like the fundamental principle that it is better to risk letting a guilty man go free, at least for now, than to risk sentencing an innocent man erroneously.

        Thus in cases like this, I think it would be far better if there was an immediate presumption that no evidence or charges at all connected with the inappropriate search ever have legal standing. Moreover, the person or persons responsible for the mistake should by default be personally liable for their illegal actions just as anyone else would be. There may be some good faith defence in the latter case, but good faith should never take precedence over the safeguard that the former offers. Even in the latter case, one must be careful that the benefits of good faith remain proportionate to the mistake, to avoid the risk of authorities erring on the side of "shooting the innocent man" and escaping the penalty for it later.

      • Simple, don't want legal problems, don't fuck up. Bottom line. Not that their isn't a bunch of people wrongfully incarcerated, but the majority DESERVE it.

        That's a nice contradiction there. It boggles my mind how you could even write a thing. If there are a bunch of wrongfully incarcerated prisoners, then it's not as "simple" as you state. If you don't want legal problems, don't fuck up, hope you don't fuck up by accident (ever broken a law you didn't know was there? Remember that ignorance of the law is never an excuse), and hope that somebody with power doesn't decide you fucked up even though you didn't. Not as friendly as your "bottom line", but a whole l

      • by Qzukk (229616)

        Not that their isn't a bunch of people wrongfully incarcerated, but the majority DESERVE it.

        And the minority get to take it up the ass in the showers while you defend the actions of the incompetent as "good faith".

    • by houghi (78078)

      it just happens to drug users and low income individuals more often because they can't defend themselves, and they have more run ins with the law.

      One must ask why they have more run ins with the law. Perhaps because they can't defend themselves.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by porpnorber (851345)

      I think there's a huge confusion in the way people think about this. The prevailing attitude seems to be that the purpose of law is to make money, and that various traps need to be in place to prevent the police making too much money and unbalancing the game.

      That's not what law is about.

      This person broke the law and was caught. There is no doubt (or no more doubt than usual) that he should be convicted. It is absurd to dismiss any evidence on the basis of how it was obtained—unless the method calls

      • If wrongfully obtained evidence is still admissible then the term loses all meaning.

        Right now there are two things that stop police from wrongfully gathering evidence. One is that such evidence is not admissible, and thus not very useful to them. And one is that it's illegal, and they can go to jail for it.

        The second thing is worthless. Ever hear of a police officer who went to jail because of how he gathered evidence? Didn't think so. Police and prosecutors are on the same side. Do you think a prosecutor,

    • Sadly your friend is another victim of the war on drugs.

      I wonder what would have happened in the equivalent case where he'd been an alcoholic or a tobacco/coffee addict.

      Rich.

  • Gettier scenario. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by a whoabot (706122) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:10PM (#25264573)

    Hypothetical Gettier scenario:

    The officer phones the clerk to ask if there is a warrant for this person's arrest. The clerk wants to trick the officer, so she says there is a warrant when she doesn't think there is. But she is mistaken and there really is a warrant she doesn't know about! The officer makes the arrest in the belief there was a warrant, which there was. Was the officer justified in making the arrest?

    • by Qzukk (229616)

      Was the officer justified in making the arrest?

      For a less obscure philosophical argument, consider if we required the government to show its work as if it were a math test: no points for deriving the correct answer, incorrectly.

  • When its intentional.

  • Root Problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by maz2331 (1104901) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:33PM (#25264767)

    The root problem in this case really boils down to whether the officers should be allowed to treat someone's word that a warrant exists as if that were the actual warrant. The correct course of action would be to have kept him in sight until a copy of the actual warrant was in the officer's possession. This is especially so now that police vehicles are routinely equipped with computer and communications gear that can immediately transfer the warrant to the officer on the scene.

    Basically, they jumped the gun (no pun intended) here and ended up executing a non-existent warrant.

  • by HairyCanary (688865) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @01:34PM (#25265351)

    If not for the error, there would not be probable cause to stop and search the guy. Therefore, it never happened, and by extension, nothing found was really found. Maintaining our moral standards are far more important than convicting one man. The ends most certainly do not justify the means.

  • I'm surprised how many people are having difficulty with this. The 4th amendment unquestionably prohibits this behavior; the evidence was collected under a false warrant (either knowingly or not; the warrant has been accepted by all to be false) and so the evidence is inadmissable. End of story. Any judge finding otherwise is simply making a judgment in violation of the constitution (not like it would be the first).

    This seems to be the very reason the 4th amendment is clearly spelled out: due to a "cleri

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jjohnson (62583)

      The 4th amendment unquestionably prohibits this behavior; the evidence was collected under a false warrant (either knowingly or not; the warrant has been accepted by all to be false) and so the evidence is inadmissable. End of story.

      You're wrong. The 4th amendment is controlled by Supreme Court decisions that provide for a "good faith exception" to the exclusionary rule, meaning that if the officers were executing a warrant in good faith (meaning that they didn't know that there was an underlying clerical

    • Getting his in the end for posessing a gun and some recreational drugs? What punishment does that justify? He didnt do any illegal ACTIONS, merely posession which is absurd to begin with. He harmed no other human being in the process, that we know of. Possesing drugs and a gun is not inherently evil.
  • Should 'misinformation' vitiate police search and seizure? How about common sense ? Let's agree that 'crime' should be prosecuted firmly to 'punish' the guilty discourage potential perpetrators.. Or does it ? If a serious felony crime is determined from an illegal search , and we all agree that's okay. What then ? It's a racing certainty that some police joker will break down a door, beat up the householders, smash and search a previously tranquil home and vindicate the violation with : 'Outstanding parkin
  • by rfc1394 (155777) <Paul@paul-robinson.us> on Monday October 06, 2008 @04:32AM (#25270753) Homepage Journal

    If there is no penalty for errors in government databases, there will be no incentive to clean them. The evidence should be thrown out, and if it happens again, it should always be thrown out. This will mean that unless the government has absolutely clean data in their databases their evidence will be suppressed as a result. The police will have no choice but to ensure their databases are regularly cleaned of error. They essentially have no civil liability (sovereign immunity) for their errors now, if I'm not mistaken, if they are not forced to fix errors or suffer the consequences for their failure to do so, they will not do so.

    Cops screamed bloody murder saying police would be destroyed by Miranda [wikipedia.org], and other cases whose names shine as beacons protecting us from the darkness of oppression ( Gideon [wikipedia.org], Escobedo [wikipedia.org], Mapp [wikipedia.org], Seibert [wikipedia.org] ) and others, as bright-line standards. And you know what? Police adapted. They became professional. They did their jobs better when they were forced to behave within constitutional limits. I have a quote from a book I'm writing:

    • The law presumes to protect an Accused against the excessive zealousness of the State in its attempts to prosecute them, and it grants them broad rights in protection against that zealousness... These are not roadblocks designed to frustrate the police from the apprehension and punishment of wrongdoers, they are walls designed to stop the police from misconduct and scandalous behavior. We have erected these walls over thousands of years because history has showed us, over and over and over, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum, that the police will, without them, will themselves continue on the path toward criminality and lawlessness.
      — Judge Edward 4 in Paul Robinson's Instrument of God

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