Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135 (Jan. 14, 2009)

The exclusionary rule does not require the exclusion of evidence found during a search incident to arrest when the officer reasonably believed that there was an outstanding warrant but that belief was wrong because of a negligent bookkeeping error by another police employee. An officer arrested the defendant based on an outstanding arrest warrant listed in a neighboring county sheriff’s computer database. A search incident to arrest discovered drugs and a gun, which formed the basis for criminal charges. Minutes after the search was completed, it became known that the warrant had been recalled but that a law enforcement official had negligently failed to record the recall in the system. The Court reasoned that the exclusionary rule is not an individual right and that it applies only where it will result in appreciable deterrence. Additionally, the benefits of deterrence must outweigh the social costs of exclusion of the evidence. An important part of the calculation is the culpability of the law enforcement conduct. Thus, the abuses that gave rise to the exclusionary rule featured intentional conduct that was patently unconstitutional. An error that arises from nonrecurring and attenuated negligence is far removed from the core concerns that lead to adoption of the rule. The Court concluded: “To trigger the exclusionary rule, police conduct must be sufficiently deliberate that exclusion can meaningfully deter it, and sufficiently culpable that such deterrence is worth the price paid by the justice system. . . . [T]he . . . rule serves to deter deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent conduct, or in some circumstances recurring or systemic negligence.” The negligence in recordkeeping at issue, the Court held, did not rise to that level. Finally the Court noted that not all recordkeeping errors are immune from the exclusionary rule: “[i]f the police have been shown to be reckless in maintaining a warrant system, or to have knowingly made false entries to lay the groundwork for future false arrests, exclusion would be . . . justified . . . .”