What is the Good Faith Exception?

You don't have to be a law expert to know that evidence that was obtained illegally can be dismissed in a court case. This is right is protected under the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. Those rights are in place to make sure that citizens are protected against "unreasonable searches and seizures."

However, there are times that those fourth amendment rights are interpreted a little differently than you might expect. When that happens, it's generally allowed under the Good Faith Exception.

Let’s take a deeper look into what constitutes an illegal search and seizure and walk you through everything you need to know about the Good Faith Exception. 

The Exclusionary Rule

In the United States, courts use the Exclusionary Rule in order to prevent law enforcement agencies from abusing the rights given in the Constitution. According to the Exclusionary Rule, courts can dismiss evidence that law enforcement obtains through unconstitutional actions. This often involves illegal search and seizure. 

If a judge does not admit crucial evidence because of the Exclusionary Rule, then the prosecution may not have a strong enough case and have to dismiss their charges. 

Unlawful search and seizure laws doesn't just cover the police busting into your home and taking your possessions. Another example is if a police officer stops and searches a man on the street even though he did nothing wrong. Let's imagine that the officer finds a piece of paper in the man's pocket that says, "drugs are under the red bench in Smith Park."

Let's then imagine that the officer goes to that location and finds a bag of drugs under the red bench. Because both the drugs and the paper were the result of an illegal search and seizure, neither of these items could be used to prove this person's guilt.  

When the Exclusionary Rule Does Not Apply

Before we get to the Good Faith Exception, let's first talk about the shortcomings of the Exclusionary Rule. Sometimes, evidence that is gathered from an illegal arrest or detention can still be used in court. 

Let's suppose that there is a warrant out for your arrest. Now, let's say you're walking down the street and not doing anything wrong. An officer, who is not aware of the warrant, suspects that you might be up to no good and so he or she stops you. 

Whatever their reason is, it's not strong enough to warrant a stop and search since they don’t have reasonable suspicion. However, continuing with this hypothetical situation, they stop you anyway and ask to see your identification. Then they have dispatch run a check on your ID and finds out about the warrant. 

They then arrest you, search you, and find illegal material in your pocket. 

Even though it was unlawful for them to stop you because they didn't have reasonable suspicion, the illegal material that they found on you could still likely be used in court against you. Why?

Because the U.S. Supreme Court has basically said that an arrest warrant can retroactively justify a stop that was illegal. 

The Good Faith Exception

The Good Faith Exception generally applies when it seems like there is a lawful basis for search and seizure, but there actually is not. This exception is often used when law enforcement relies on a search warrant only to find out that the warrant is invalid. 

In order for the Good Faith Exception to be invoked, all members of the law enforcement team involved in the search must behave as they are legally required.

If an officer uses inaccurate information in order to get a search warrant, the Good Faith Exception would not work. Also, if the search warrant is ambiguous enough for a reasonable police officer to assume the warrant is invalid, then evidence found with that warrant would not be admissible. 

Like it or not, courts tend to rule in favor of the Good Faith Exception. For example, if an officer made in error while maintaining their databases of warrants and a police officer searches the wrong person, good faith can be invoked.

Also, if an officer does rely on a law that later changes, good faith can be invoked in that circumstance too. For example, in Illinois v. Krull, police were allowed to inspect the records of people who sold scrap metal. While inspecting records, police found four stolen cars on the lot of a scrapyard. 

The day after arresting the owners of the yard, it was made illegal in the state for police to inspect records without a warrant. The evidence obtained was still used in court though thanks to the Good Faith Exception.

Why Have the Exception?

It’s mainly because the purpose of the Exclusionary Rule is to stop the police from behaving unconstitutionally. The courts argue that when an officer behaves reasonably and honestly, the evidence they gather shouldn't be dismissed. 

Obviously, there are many critics who complain that citizens should bear the brunt of law enforcement's mistakes. You also can never truly know if the officer is actually acting in good faith or just trying to get around the fourth amendment. 

The Importance of Knowing About the Good Faith Exception

By knowing about the Good Faith Exception, you can better understand and protect your constitutional rights. If you ever find yourself to be a victim of constitutional abuse, do not hesitate to contact a reliable attorney

Were you subjected to an illegal search and seizure and now looking to get your driver's license reinstated? Contact us today and see what we can do for you.