United States v. Leon

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Alberto Leon
LOCATION: Residence of Alberto Leon

DOCKET NO.: 82-1771
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 468 US 897 (1984)
ARGUED: Jan 17, 1984
DECIDED: Jul 05, 1984

Barry Tarlow - Argued the cause for the respondent Leon
Roger L. Cossack - Argued the cause for the respondents Stewart et al
Rex E. Lee - Argued the cause for the United States

Facts of the case

The exclusionary rule requires that evidence illegally seized must be excluded from criminal trials. Leon was the target of police surveillance based on an anonymous informant's tip. The police applied to a judge for a search warrant of Leon's home based on the evidence from their surveillance. A judge issued the warrant and the police recovered large quantities of illegal drugs. Leon was indicted for violating federal drug laws. A judge concluded that the affadavit for the search warrant was insufficient; it did not establish the probable cause necessary to issue the warrant. Thus, the evidence obtained under the warrant could not be introduced at Leon's trial.


Is there a "good faith" exception to the exclusionary rule?

Media for United States v. Leon

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 17, 1984 in United States v. Leon

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in United States against Leon.

Mr. Solicitor General, you may proceed when you are ready.

Rex E. Lee:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, before I state the facts of this case, I would like first just briefly briefly to review the governing principle of law against whose background the statement of facts should be more helpful.

The exclusionary rule emerged from cases like Weeks versus the United States and Mapp v. Ohio in which law enforcement officers committed flagrantly abusive violations of the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights.

The officers knew or should have known that what they were doing was a violation of the Fourth Amendment but they did it anyway.

The rule rests on the assumption that the best way to deter that kind of conduct is to deny its evidentiary fruits to the law enforcement officers who perpetrated it.

Neither the exclusionary rule nor its underlying deterrence assumption is being challenged in this case.

Its applicability to cases of wilful misconduct, like Weeks and Mapp, would be left undisturbed by the rule which we propose.

The net result of Weeks and Mapp is that we are willing to let some criminals go free as the necessary price for deterring the constable from violating the Fourth Amendment, but it is a heavy price, and this Court has clarified that it is a heavy price, and that we do not pay it beyond those cases to which its underlying deterrence rationale extends.

The exception for which we contend comes into play by its very definition only in those cases where deterrence would be inappropriate, where the police have acted as a reasonably well trained officer would have acted under the circumstances.

In that kind of case, to whatever extent, excluding the evidence, where the police have acted reasonably deters, it deters too much.

It overdeters.

It is just as likely to deter the police from performing their duty as it is to encourage compliance with the Fourth Amendment.

Therefore, it will not deter future Fourth Amendment violations so long as the police do their duty.

This Court's precedents make it very clear that since the paramount and perhaps the sole purpose of the exclusionary rule is to deter, the rule applies only to those situations where the deterrence benefits outweigh the costs of depressing highly probative evidence.

In Stone v. Powell and United States v. Janis, for example, it was conceded that there would have been some additional evidence, some additional deterrence from the unavailability of the illegally seized evidence at a subsequent habeas corpus proceeding or a civil trial by a different sovereign.

In both of those cases and others, the existence of some marginal deterrence from application of the exclusionary rule to those additional proceedings or to those additional contexts was conceded.

Nevertheless, the rule was held inapplicable because it could not pay its way in a cost benefit analysis.

The marginal evidentiary cost exceeded the marginal deterrence benefit that would result from applying an exclusionary rule to those proceedings.

And it is this Court's deterrence-based cost benefit principle which squarely governs this case, to whose facts I now turn.

On the cost side, the four respondents here have been charged with offenses that include the possession and distribution of drugs.

The evidence that they seek to exclude, large quantities of drugs and drug dealing paraphernalia found in their residences, is highly relevant to the issue of their guilt or innocence.

On the deterrence side, it is really quite difficult to perceive just what it is that the police did wrong in this case, or perhaps more appropriately said, what it is that we would want them to do differently in the next case.

After receiving a tip from an informant that--

Byron R. White:

Well, on that basis... perhaps we just ought to reverse on that basis, that they acted consistently with the Fourth Amendment.

Rex E. Lee:

--That brings into play, Justice White--

Byron R. White:

Another Illinois against Gates.

Rex E. Lee:

--Another Illinois against Gates, and of course my response to that is twofold.

The first is that the question is not before the Court in the sense that it is not one of the questions presented, and the second is that after Gates, it involves nothing more than a fact bound probable cause issue which does not... which after Gates really does not warrant attention as one of the 150 cases that this Court each year will review on the merits.

We have acted consistent--