Law Enforcement Case Law

Date01 September 2005
Published date01 September 2005
Subject MatterArticles
10.1177/0734016805284304Criminal Justice ReviewRecent Legal Developments
Law Enforcement Case Law
Craig Hemmens
Boise State University
Law Enforcement Case Law
This article is another in a recurring series that provides a selective review of current case
law involving law enforcement. The cases are drawn from decisions rendered by the U.S.
Courts of Appeal between January 2003 and December 2004. This time period covers Vol-
umes 313 to 389 of the Federal Reporter (3rd ed.). The topics addressed include the follow-
ing areas of criminal procedure that are commonly faced by law enforcement officers: the
exclusionary rule, probable cause, stop and frisk, exigent circumstances, vehicle stops, con-
sent searches, plain view searches, and compulsory self-incrimination and Miranda rights.
Exclusionary Rule
In Mapp v. Ohio (1960), the U.S. Supreme Court applied the exclusionary rule to the
states; the rule had been previously applied to the federal governmentin Weeks v.U.S. (1914).
The exclusionary rule prevents the use, at trial, of evidenceobtained by law enforcement offi-
cers in violation of the Fourth Amendment. At issue in U.S. v.Steiger (2003) was whether the
exclusionary rule should be applied when law enforcement obtained evidence obtained ille-
gally by a third party. In this case, an investigation of Steiger began when the Montgomery,
Alabama, Police Department received an e-mail from an anonymous informant located in
Turkey, indicating that he had found a child molester on the Internet. This information was
then turned over to the FBI. A search warrant for Steiger’shome was then obtained based on
the information provided by the anonymous informant; this search turned up a variety of
child pornography. Prior to trial, Steiger challenged the validity of the search warrant, argu-
ing that it violated the Fourth Amendment because it was based on information obtained ille-
gally, by the informant, who was acting as an agent of the government. The district court
denied Steiger’smotion to suppress the evidence, stating that the anonymous informant acted
on his own and not at the behest of the government. Steiger was convicted of possession of
child pornography and appealed.
The 11th Circuit upheld Steiger’s conviction on the ground that the anonymous computer
hacker who supplied police with the information was not a government agent. The Fourth
Amendment applies only to the conduct of government employees and, in rare instances, to
private citizens who have been asked for help by the police. The fact that the FBI had
accepted information from this third party previously did not convert thethird party ’s volun-
tary transmittal of information to the police into a request for information by the FBI. The fact
that the information was obtained illegally, via an unauthorized hacking into Steiger’scom-
Recent Legal Developments Criminal Justice Review
Volume 30 Number 2
September 2005 256-284
© 2005 Georgia State University
Research Foundation, Inc.
hosted at
Author’sNote: I wish to acknowledge the excellent research assistance provided by Jennifer Ashley and Amanda
Freeman, students in the M.A. program in criminal justice administration at Boise State University.
puter, was irrelevant, as this misconduct was not subject to the exclusionary rule, which
applies only to misconduct by government actors.
In U.S. v. Leon (1984), the U.S. Supreme Court created the “good faith” exception to the
exclusionary rule, which permits the government to use evidence that was seized by police
executing a facially valid search warrant that is in fact invalid so long as the police are
unaware of the invalidity and act in good faith reliance on the judge who issued the warrant.
The good faith exception was at issue in U.S. v. Perez (2004). The search warrant at issue in
this case was obtained by the Roane County,West Virginia, Sheriff’s Department basedon a
tip from a known informant named Taylor. Taylorinformed law enforcement that he had seen
large quantities of marijuana in Perez’s home. Perez’s home was searched pursuant to the
search warrant; the search turned up a large amount of marijuana and several weapons. Perez
challenged the validity of the search warrant, arguing that the search warrant lackedprobable
cause. The district court ruled that the search warrant lacked probable cause because (a)
police lacked any indicia of the informant’s reliability and (b) they failed to corroborate any
of the information they receivedfrom the informant. Search warrants based on an informant’s
tip must pass the “totality of the circumstances” test of Illinois v. Gates (1983), which
requires several elements, including corroboration and documentation of the informant’s
basis of knowledge. Thus, the Gates test for probable cause was not met. In addition, the dis-
trict court ruled that that the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule was inapplicable
because the judge who issued the search warrant acted as a “rubber stamp” and that any “rea-
sonably well-trained” officer would have known there was an absence of probable cause.
The 4th Circuit reversed the district court and held that the good faith exception did apply.
The court noted that the law enforcement officers’reliance on the search warrant was objec-
tively reasonable for two reasons: (a) The information was provided by a known informant,
and (b) the information provided by the informant was gained from the informant through
personal observation. The court acknowledged that the information supplied in the affidavit
was skimpy but determined it was nonetheless sufficient for police to have had a good faith
belief that the search warrant that issued based on the affidavit was valid. The fact that a
reviewing court later determined the judge who issued the warrant was wrong did not mean
the law enforcement officers acted unreasonably when they relied on this judge’s determina-
tion of probable cause. This was not a case where police officers knew they lacked probable
cause when they sought a search warrant.
The “knock and announce” rule mandates that police officers knock and give notice of
their presence and purpose before entering a residence to conduct a search. The knock and
announce rule was incorporated into the reasonableness clause of the Fourth Amendment in
Wilson v. Arkansas (1995), and the exceptions to the rule were incorporated in Richards v.
Wisconsin (1997). The Fourth Amendment requires that searches be conducted reasonably,
and this applies to the manner in which the search has been conducted. Failure to comply with
the knock and announce rule can result in the application of the exclusionary rule. “No-
knock” warrants have become increasingly popular as police officers seek to enter the resi-
dences of suspects who they fear will try to forcibly resist or destroy incriminating evidence.
A no-knock warrant was at issue in U.S. v.Scroggins (2004). A joint FBI–Kansas City Police
task force investigating drug trafficking in Kansas City, Missouri, were told by several
sources that Scroggins was a drug trafficker who dealt large amounts of cocaine. Police offi-
cers corroborated some of the information they received from informants and sought and
received a no-knock search warrant, authorizing them to enter without first knocking. The
Recent Legal Developments 257

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