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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 liquidpele (663430) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @10:42AM (#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.
  • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:20PM (#25265203)

    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).

  • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @01:34PM (#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 Snover (469130) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @01:55PM (#25266043) Homepage

    They are some poignant quotes from Brazil [wikipedia.org].

  • by Valdrax (32670) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @02:11PM (#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 slashqwerty (1099091) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @03:16PM (#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.

Lo! Men have become the tool of their tools. -- Henry David Thoreau

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