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Commentary

Evidence From Database Errors Can Be Used In Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided, in a 5-4 vote, that police can use evidence obtained in searches resulting from erroneous information in databases, as long as the error was a result of negligence -- not "systemic errors or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements."
The U.S. Supreme Court has decided, in a 5-4 vote, that police can use evidence obtained in searches resulting from erroneous information in databases, as long as the error was a result of negligence -- not "systemic errors or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements."In Herring v. United States, the court knocks down an argument that evidence obtained during illegal searches and arrests should be thrown out because it violates the Fourth Amendment. The majority ruled that, as long as the arrest wasn't reckless or deliberate, related evidence could be used.

Bennie Dean Herring was arrested while trying to retrieve something from his truck, which an Alabama sheriff had impounded. Members of the Coffee County Sheriff's Department mistakenly believed there was a warrant out for Herring and arrested him. During the arrest, they found that Herring possessed an illegal gun and methamphetamine.

Herring tried to fight gun and drug possession charges, saying the gun and drugs were found during an arrest that violates the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment requires law enforcement to have warrants for arrests and probable cause for search and seizure.

The Supreme Court decision, rejecting Herring's argument, states that the arrest was not in deliberate violation of Herring's rights.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote in the dissent that the majority underestimated "the need for a forceful exclusionary rule and the gravity of record-keeping errors" in law enforcement.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center and OpenTheGovernment.org criticized the decision as well.

"Given the increase in the breadth and influence of electronic databases used by the criminal justice system, requiring law enforcement personnel to keep accurate records is perfectly reasonable," Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org, said in a statement. "On the other hand, the Court's failure to ensure law enforcement has an accuracy obligation threatens civil liberties by undermining the right against unreasonable search and seizure."