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No Good-Faith Exception for Officer’s Lie

Although a police officer said he lied to the occupant of an apartment about having a search warrant in order to protect the woman who had rented the apartment and who sought police assistance in removing the man from her apartment, the officer’s subjective intent was no basis for applying the good-faith exception to the warrant requirement; the 4th Circuit reverses defendant’s conviction and remands for suppression of evidence.

A woman contacted police and asked that they remove defendant from her apartment because she thought he was dealing drugs during the two days he had stayed with her. She gave police the key to her apartment and signed a form consenting to a search of the apartment. An officer testified at a suppression hearing that when police appeared at the apartment, he lied and told defendant they had a warrant to search the apartment, in order to protect the woman who gave them the key.

Police discovered crack cocaine and digital scales. Defendant admitted selling drugs and gave police the name of his supplier. They left him in the apartment but later arrested him. The district court found a constitutional violation but said police did not intentionally impair defendant’s right and justifiably attempted to protect the informant. The court denied defendant’s motion to suppress.

No one contests that defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated. The parties disagree only about whether the resulting evidence should have been suppressed. Defendant asserts the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule is inapplicable because the officer deliberately lied about the existence of a search warrant and could not have had an objectively reasonable belief that such a lie was lawful. We agree.

Good-faith exception

Here, the search was unconstitutional due to the intentional decision of the officer to tell defendant that there was a search warrant, even though he knew his statement was untrue. This is not a case of negligence, or reasonable reliance on faulty information. Rather, it is a case of a deliberate lie. The good-faith exception would apply here only if the officers held an objectively reasonable belief that it was lawful to conduct the search after lying about the existence of a warrant.

Here, there can be no doubt that a reasonable officer would know that deliberately lying about the existence of a warrant would violate defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. Courts have long taken a negative view of law enforcement misleading the public about having valid warrants. The officer who lied had 16 years’ experience with the police department. An objectively reasonable officer with his level of experience would have known that consent to search is not valid if given after the police falsely claim to have a search warrant.

Reversed and remanded.

U.S. v. Rush (Wynn) No. 14-4695, Dec. 21, 2015; USDC at Charleston, W.Va. (Copenhaver) Rhett H. Johnson, FPD, for appellant; John J. Frail, AUSA, for appellee. VLW 015-2-192, 13 pp.

VLW 015-2-192

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