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Davis v. U.S. and Vehicle Searches

On Behalf of | Aug 24, 2011 | Federal Crimes

In its recent decision in Davis v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court held by a 7-2 vote that the exclusionary rule does not bar evidence from a search that was legal when the police conducted it but became illegal under a new rule announced by the Court while the case was waiting for a direct appeal, if police acted in good faith by relying on the law as it stood when they conducted the search. The Court’s ruling has important implications for cases currently on appeal and how police will search vehicles in the future.

Facts of the Case

Police arrested Willie Gene Davis for giving a false name after they stopped the car in which he was a passenger. After arresting both Davis and the driver, handcuffing the men and placing them in the back of separate squad cars, police searched the car and found a gun in the pocket of Davis’ jacket. Davis had previously been convicted of a felony and was later convicted of felony possession of a firearm.

Davis appealed his conviction and, while the appeal was pending in 2009, the Court decided the case Arizona v. Gant. In Gant, the Court considered whether police could legally search a vehicle after they had already arrested and detained a suspect even though they lacked a reasonable suspicion that they would find evidence of the crime for which the suspect was arrested in the vehicle.

The Court held in Gant that the Fourth Amendment requires police to demonstrate either a threat to officers’ safety or a need to preserve evidence to justify a search of a vehicle incident to arrest after a suspect has been detained. Otherwise, the exclusionary rule will bar admission of any evidence discovered by police as a result of the illegal search.

The 11th Circuit upheld Davis’ conviction, despite the Supreme Court’s opinion in Gant and despite a finding that the search at issue in Davis was unreasonable, and therefore illegal. The court reasoned that the purpose of the exclusionary rule is to deter misconduct by threatening police with the sanction of suppressing evidence that results from illegal searches. In Davis’ case, police were following the law as courts interpreted it at the time – there would be no deterrent effect in suppressing evidence as a result of a new interpretation of the demands of the Fourth Amendment.

The dissenting justices in Davis argued that it was unfair to acknowledge that Davis was the victim of an illegal search but to offer him no remedy.

An Attorney Can Help

If you or someone you love is facing criminal charges, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense lawyer can assess your case and help you protect your rights. For more information, contact an attorney today.