Criminal Law Blog

The good faith exception doesn’t help the police when tainted evidence is the sole basis for an arrest warrant

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Kim E. Smith v. United States, Nos. 12-CM-1742 and 12-CM-1743 (decided December 4, 2014).
Players:  Associate Judges Blackburne-Rigsby and Beckwith, Senior Judge King.  Opinion by Associate Judge Blackburne-Rigsby.  Cynthia Nordone for Mr. Smith.  Trial Judge Marisa Demeo.
Facts:  Officer Cartwright stopped Mr. Smith’s car due to the officer’s mistaken belief that the frame around Mr. Smith’s license plate violated D.C. law because it obstructed the “Taxation Without Representation” portion of the license plate.  (Under the DCCA’s recent opinion in Whitfield v. United States, 99 A.3d 650, 652 (D.C. 2014), a license plate frame that covers some portion of the plate but that does not obstruct critical identifying information such as the license plate number does not violate D.C. traffic regulations.)  During the stop, Officer Cartwright learned that Mr. Smith was driving without a license.  Officers then retrieved marijuana from Mr. Smith and from his car.  Police officers obtained an arrest warrant for Mr. Smith.  When they saw Mr. Smith in the neighborhood about a month later, they arrested him and found additional marijuana on him.
Issue: Whether the exclusionary rule applies to evidence obtained pursuant to a search warrant that is based on evidence from an illegal stop.
Holding:  Yes.  The government argued that the Leon good faith exception applies to this situation, as the police officers reasonably relied on a valid arrest warrant.  The DCCA rejected that argument, as the exclusionary rule prohibits the introduction of derivative evidence, i.e., evidence that is acquired as an indirect result of an unlawful search.  Here, evidence obtained from the illegal traffic stop of Mr. Smith was the sole basis for the arrest warrant, and no evidence demonstrated that the police would have discovered the marijuana on Mr. Smith’s person at the time of his arrest in the absence of the illegal traffic stop.  Therefore, it should have been suppressed.  NG