Arizona v. Evans
Decided on Mar. 1, 1995; 514 US 1


A. Issues Discussed: Search and seizure

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does the exclusionary rule require suppression of evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment where the erroneous information resulted from clerical errors of court employees?


A. Background:

"Respondent was arrested by Phoenix police during a routine traffic stop when a patrol car's computer indicated that there was an outstanding misdemeanor warrant for his arrest. A subsequent search of his car revealed a bag of marijuana, and he was charged with possession. Respondent moved to suppress the marijuana as the fruit of an unlawful arrest, since the misdemeanor warrant had been quashed before his arrest. The trial court granted the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that the exclusionary rule's purpose would not be served by excluding evidence obtained because of an error by employees not directly associated with the arresting officers or their police department. In reversing, the Arizona Supreme Court rejected the distinction between clerical errors committed by law enforcement personnel and similar mistakes by court employees and predicted that the exclusionary rule's application would serve to improve the efficiency of criminal justice system recordkeepers."

On certiorari the US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Arizona.
B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unknown Unknown
Opposing Side

A brief of amici curiae urging affirmance was filed for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. by Steven R. Shapiro and Tracey Maclin.

United States

"The Fourth Amendment states that '[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.' We have recognized, however, that the Fourth Amendment contains no provision expressly precluding the use of evidence obtained in violation of its commands...

'The question whether the exclusionary rule's remedy is appropriate in a particular context has long been regarded as an issue separate from the question whether the Fourth Amendment rights of the party seeking to invoke the rule were violated by police conduct.' The exclusionary rule operates as a judicially created remedy designed to safeguard against future violations of Fourth Amendment rights through the rule's general deterrent effect. As with any remedial device, the rule's application has been restricted to those instances where its remedial objectives are thought most efficaciously served. Where 'the exclusionary rule does not result in appreciable deterrence, then, clearly, its use. . . is unwarranted.'

In Leon, we applied these principles to the context of a police search in which the officers had acted in objectively reasonable reliance on a search warrant, issued by a neutral and detached Magistrate, that later was determined to be invalid. On the basis of three factors, we determined that there was no sound reason to apply the exclusionary rule as a means of deterring misconduct on the part of judicial officers who are responsible for issuing warrants. First, we noted that the exclusionary rule was historically designed 'to deter police misconduct rather than to punish the errors of judges and magistrates.' Second, there was 'no evidence suggesting that judges and magistrates are inclined to ignore or subvert the Fourth Amendment or that lawlessness among these actors requires the application of the extreme sanction of exclusion.' Third, and of greatest importance, there was no basis for believing that exclusion of evidence seized pursuant to a warrant would have a significant deterrent effect on the issuing judge or magistrate.

...If court employees were responsible for the erroneous computer record, the exclusion of evidence at trial would not sufficiently deter future errors so as to warrant such a severe sanction. First, as we noted in Leon, the exclusionary rule was historically designed as a means of deterring police misconduct, not mistakes by court employees. Second, respondent offers no evidence that court employees are inclined to ignore or subvert the Fourth Amendment or that lawlessness among these actors requires application of the extreme sanction of exclusion. To the contrary, the Chief Clerk of the Justice Court testified at the suppression hearing that this type of error occurred once every three or four years.

Finally, and most important, there is no basis for believing that application of the exclusionary rule in these circumstances will have a significant effect on court employees responsible for informing the police that a warrant has been quashed. Because court clerks are not adjuncts to the law enforcement team engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime they have no stake in the outcome of particular criminal prosecutions. The threat of exclusion of evidence could not be expected to deter such individuals from failing to inform police officials that a warrant had been quashed.

If it were indeed a court clerk who was responsible for the erroneous entry on the police computer, application of the exclusionary rule also could not be expected to alter the behavior of the arresting officer. As the trial court in this case stated: 'I think the police officer [was] bound to arrest. I think he would [have been] derelict in his duty if he failed to arrest.' The Chief Clerk of the Justice Court testified that this type of error occurred 'on[c]e every three or four years.' In fact, once the court clerks discovered the error, they immediately corrected it and then proceeded to search their files to make sure that no similar mistakes had occurred. There is no indication that the arresting officer was not acting objectively reasonably when he relied upon the police computer record. Application of the Leon framework supports a categorical exception to the exclusionary rule for clerical errors of court employees."

The US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Arizona.

Justice Vote: 2 Pro vs. 7 Con
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Breyer, S. Con (Joined majority opinion)

    The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged affirmance of the Supreme Court of Arizona judgment; the Supreme Court reversed in a 7-2 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.