Monday, November 15, 2010

New Supreme Court Case on the Exclusionary Rule

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide another Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule case: Tolentino v. New York, 09-11556. Details are on Scotusblog.

According to the decision in the New York Court of Appeals, the defendant's vehicle was stopped by NYPD for playing music too loudly. The police checked his information on the computer, and discovered that his license was suspended. The defendant was then arrested for driving with a suspended license.

The defendant made a creative argument. He suggested that if the initial stop by the police was unlawful, then any information they discovered as a result of that stop – including his identity -- cannot be used in a prosecution. However, the court rejected this argument, finding that when a violation of the Fourth Amendment leads only learning the identity of a suspect, suppression is not appropriate. This is supported, according to the NY court, by the fact that the records checked on the computer were already in the hands of the government.

Although this Court has not been very supportive of the exclusionary rule, my initial thought is that the defendant has a good argument here. The purpose of the exclusionary rule is to discourage unlawful police conduct. While the government is permitted to require a person provide identification to a police officer, permitting the use of evidence in this case will encourage police to engage in unlawful conduct to "check" on the identity of suspects.

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