Davis v. United States

PETITIONER: Willie Gene Davis
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 09-11328
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 564 US (2011)
GRANTED: Nov 01, 2010
ARGUED: Mar 21, 2011
DECIDED: Jun 16, 2011

ADVOCATES:
Michael R. Dreeben - Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent
Orin S. Kerr - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Police arrested Willie Gene Davis after a traffic stop. He subsequently gave a false name to the officers. After discovering his real name, the officers arrested him, handcuffed him and put him in the police car for giving false information to a police officer. Then they searched the vehicle and found a gun in his jacket. He was charged and convicted for possession of an illegal weapon. Following a jury trial, Davis was convicted and sentenced to 220 months in prison. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found that while the search was illegal the evidence found in the vehicle was still admissible.

Question

Does the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule apply to a search that was authorized by precedent at the time of the search but is subsequently ruled unconstitutional?

Media for Davis v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 21, 2011 in Davis v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 16, 2011 in Davis v. United States

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

This is a case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

In the course of a routine automobile stop, police officers lawfully arrested a passenger in the car, petitioner Davis, and then conducted a search of the car.

The police found a gun that belongs to Davis, and Davis was indicted and later convicted in federal court on the charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

At the time of the search in this case, binding Eleventh Circuit precedent had interpreted one of this Court's Fourth Amendment cases, New York versus Belton to authorize vehicle searches like the one conducted here, a vehicle search incident to a recent occupant's arrest.

Two years later, while Davis' appeal in this case was still pending, this Court rejected the Eleventh Circuit's interpretation of Belton in a case called Arizona versus Gant.

The parties agree that under Gant, the vehicle search in this case violated the Fourth Amendment.

The question before us in this case is whether the evidence obtained during the search, the gun, should be suppressed under the exclusionary rule.

This Court has long recognized that the exclusionary rule is not a personal constitutional right but a prudential doctrine, the sole purpose of which is to deter police misconduct.

The rule applies only when the deterrent's benefits of suppression outweigh its costs.

Thus, this Court's cases upheld that when the police conduct a search in objectively reasonable reliance on the subsequently invalidated search warrant or statute, exclusion of evidence is unwarranted.

We now conclude that the same result should obtain in this case.

When the police conduct a search in objectively reasonable reliance on binding judicial precedent, the exclusionary rule does not apply.

Suppressing evidence in such cases would deter no police misconduct and would impose substantial costs.

In cases like this one where the applicable precedent is a decision of a Court of Appeals, this rule will not prevent the development of Fourth Amendment case law since challenges may be brought in other Circuits.

We do not reach the question whether a particular petitioner who obtains the overruling of one of this Court's Fourth Amendment precedents should have the benefit of the exclusionary rule.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is affirmed.

Justice Sotomayor has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

Justice Breyer has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Ginsburg has joined.