Officers Can't Lie About a Search Warrant: No 'Good Faith' Exception

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on December 31, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Fourth Circuit's Court of Appeals drew a line in the sand for the Fourth Amendment unreasonable search by declaring that a "good-faith" motivation to protect a witness does not pass the good faith search warrant exceptions under the Exclusionary Rule Doctrine.

Let this be the case that stands for the rule of thumb: "white lies" can taint searches.

The Officer's Lie

In May of 2012, Marquita Wills contacted the Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Network Team because she suspected the defendant, Kenneth Rush, of dealing drugs out of her apartment. At a remote location, Ms. Wills signed a consent form to have her apartment searched by the police. Police then entered into the apartment and detained Mr. Rush.

One of the officers claimed that the officers had a warrant to search the premises. This was an intentional lie. No warrant existed, but the officer later claimed the lie was intended to protect Ms. Wills from Rush. During the search, crack cocaine was found in Rush's living area.

The case is interesting in that it implicates legal inquiry as to whether or not Ms. Wills had the authority to consent to the search of her apartment with Rush still living there. Under general rules, the answer is no.

Good Faith Exception

Rush was eventually arrested and charged with drug possession crimes. However, in his motion in limine he moved to suppress the cocaine as being a product of a warrantless search.

The lower federal court found that even though there was a violation of Rush's Fourth Amendment rights, the officer's good faith intent to protect Ms. Wills exempted the search from warrant, and the cocaine was allowable.

The Circuit Reverses: This Is Not "Good Faith"

The Fourth Circuit Court disagreed. Both the district and circuit court at least agreed that Rush's Fourth Amendment rights were violated. But the Fourth Circuit laid out a litany of case law that in no way supported the new theory that the federal court had approved: that a noble motivation somehow satisfied the "good faith" exception to the valid search warrant. In all the relevant cases, "good faith" was understood to be a honest and justified belief that a warrant is valid. Here, the officer's claim was an out and out lie.

The court stood firmly with the opinion of the Sixth Circuit: "so long as there is an exclusionary rule, it seems safe to say that it will apply to officers who enter and remain in a house based on false pretenses."

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