Is our exclusionary rule in jeopardy?

In a series titled “American Exception” The New York Times examines the American exclusionary rule in “Should Suspects Go Free When Police Blunder?” The exclusionary rule was originally outlined by the United States Supreme Court in Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961) and mandates suppression of evidence in certain instances when police violate a suspect’s constitutional rights.

The United States Supreme Court is scheduled to consider the case of Bennie Dean Herring of Birmingham, Alabama on October 7, 2008. The Court will consider whether drugs and a gun should have been suppressed where police mistakenly searched Mr. Herring after believing he had an outstanding arrest warrant due to poor record-keeping at another police department.

Smell of marijuana in general area is insufficient for probable cause to arrest

State v. Grande, Washington Supreme Court, filed July 17, 2008.

Mr. Grande was a passenger in a vehicle stopped for having very dark tinted windows. When the officer pulled the vehicle over, he detected the moderate smell of marijuana coming from the car. He arrested both the driver and Mr. Grande, the passenger. He handcuffed and searched them. He found a marijuana pipe that contained a small amount of marijuana on Mr. Grande. In the car, the officer found a burnt marijuana cigarette in the ashtray. The driver claimed the cigarette as her own. Both the driver and Mr. Grande were arrested and charged with possession of marijuana. Mr. Grande was also charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.

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Vehicle crossing over a lane once by two tire widths not a traffic violation justifying seizure by law enforcement

State v. Tonelli-Prado, Washington Court of Appeals, Division I, filed July 7, 2008.

Mr. Tonelli Prado was stopped as he was exiting I-5 at James Street in Seattle, WA. The police officer had observed Mr. Tonelli Prado’s car cross an 8 inch white line dividing the exit lane from the adjacent lane by approximately 2 tire widths for 1 second. Mr. Tonelli Prado was investigated and arrested for driving under the influence of intoxicants. Mr. Tonelli Prado’s motion to suppress for an unlawful seizure was denied, he was convicted, and he appealed.

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Warrantless search of dorm hallway unlawful absent consent; residents have reasonable expectation of privacy in floor hallway

State v. Houvener, Washington Court of Appeals, Division III, filed June 26, 2008.

Around 5:45 AM on February 11, 2006, campus police responded to a reported burglary on the third floor of a dormitory complex on the campus of Washington State University. The officer learned that the resident’s laptop computer and acoustic guitar had been stolen. Campus police initiated a search of the dormitory complex. Campus police started on the top of the complex, either the 12th or 13th floor, and walked the halls, eventually reaching the 6th floor.

Mr. Houvener and another person were in Mr. Houvener’s room on the 6th floor and the campus police heard voices and music which seemed suspicious around 6 AM. The police listened at the threshold and heard someone say he was paranoid they were going to be caught and a second voice say he didn’t think the victim would call the cops. The campus police officer put his finger over the peephole and tried a ruse to gain entry.  The residents ignored the ruse until the officer identified himself as a police officer and ordered them to open the door. Mr. Houvener opened the door. The officer, dressed in his police uniform and armed, asked Mr. Houvener to step into the hallway and down the hall with him. Mr. Houvener complied. Campus police asked Mr. Houvener questions and he made incriminating statements that some of the items in the room didn’t belong to him.

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Seizure of witness unlawful without exigent circumstances

State v. Dorey, Washington Court of Appeals, Division III, filed June 26, 2008.

Police received a complaint of a disturbance involving a black man and another man in a black shirt and arrived at the location. The disturbance was alleged to have occurred 5-10 minutes before the police officer arrived. Nothing was at the intersection. The officer went to a convenience store that was in the direction that one of the males had run and saw a car in the stall of a car wash and a male in a black shirt. The officer spoke to the clerk of the store, who knew nothing of the disturbance. The officer pulled his patrol car up to the man in the black shirt, Mr. Dorey, who was getting in his car to leave. The officer yelled at Mr. Dorey to hold on a minute and indicated that he wanted to talk to him. Mr. Dorey stopped his car and got out to speak to the officer.

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