Murray v. United States

487 US 533 (1988)

(The Warehouse Attenuation Case)

 

Context

According to the plain view doctrine of the Fourth Amendment, a police officer is legally permitted to seize without a warrant objects in plain view which it is “immediately apparent” are incriminating in a situation in which the officer lawfully comes to see the evidence. According to the exclusionary rule, almost all evidence that is obtained by means of a violation of the Fourth Amendment is deemed inadmissible in trial. In April of 1983, federal law enforcement agents tailed Michael F Murray and James D Carter in suspicion of drug activity, and saw the two drive large vehicles into a warehouse in Boston and leave. The agents arrested the two men and lawfully searched and seized their cars, finding marijuana in the process. Later, agents went back to the warehouse without a warrant and found much more marijuana, but left the area under surveillance until they could obtain a warrant. The agents didn’t mention their forced entry or any information that they had obtained from their prior search in their application for the search warrant, and eight hours later had the warrant to search the warehouse. The agents subsequently returned to the warehouse and seized more evidence. Before trial, Murray and Carter moved to suppress the evidence found in the warehouse on the basis that it was acquired based on information obtained during an illegal entry, and was therefore inadmissible. The case reached the Supreme Court, where the Justices deliberated on whether evidence in plain sight obtained during an illegal entry could be admissible after later on being obtained during a legal, warranted search. In a 4-3 decision, the plurality ruled that if police illegally obtain information about evidence but legally obtain the evidence, that evidence is admissible in court. In this case, wrote Scalia in the plurality’s opinion, since the officers legally obtained a warrant without relying on the information that they had obtained through the illegal search, the evidence that they obtained through the legal warrant is considered to have come from an independent, legal source, and is therefore admissible. This decision created the “independent source doctrine” exception to the exclusionary rule, by which evidence may be obtained in a legal search that follows a prior illegal search if the second search would have been conducted without the evidence found in the first, illegal search. Just two years later in Maryland v Buie, the Court would decide on another case related to the plain view doctrine of the Fourth Amendment.


How the Justices Voted

Majority: Scalia, joined by Rehnquist, White, Blackmun

Dissent: Marshall, joined by Stevens, O'Connor

Dissent: Stevens

 

Facts:

Both cases arise out of the conviction of petitioner Michael F. Murray, petitioner James D. Carter, and others for conspiracy to possess and distribute illegal drugs. Insofar as relevant for our purposes, the facts are as follows: Based on information received from informants, federal law enforcement agents had been surveilling petitioner Murray and several of his co-conspirators. At about 1:45 p.m. on April 6, 1983, they observed Murray drive a truck and Carter drive a green camper, into a warehouse in South Boston. When the petitioners drove the vehicles out about 20 minutes later, the surveilling agents saw within the warehouse two individuals and a tractor-trailer rig bearing a long, dark container. Murray and Carter later turned over the truck and camper to other drivers, who were in turn followed and ultimately arrested, and the vehicles lawfully seized. Both vehicles were found to contain marijuana.

After receiving this information, several of the agents converged on the South Boston warehouse and forced entry. They found the warehouse unoccupied, but observed in plain view numerous burlap-wrapped bales that were later found to contain marijuana. They left without disturbing the bales, kept the warehouse under surveillance, and did not reenter it until they had a search warrant. In applying for the warrant, the agents did not mention the prior entry, and did not rely on any observations made during that entry. When the warrant was issued -- at 10:40 p.m., approximately eight hours after the initial entry -- the agents immediately reentered the warehouse and seized 270 bales of marijuana and notebooks listing customers for whom the bales were destined.     

Murray v. United States

Murray v. United States

Murray v. United States

Question:

Whether, again assuming evidence obtained pursuant to an independently obtained search warrant, the portion of such evidence that had been observed in plain view at the time of a prior illegal entry must be suppressed.

Whether the search pursuant to warrant was in fact a genuinely independent source of the information and tangible evidence at issue here.    

Reasoning:

The exclusionary rule prohibits introduction into evidence of tangible materials seized during an unlawful search and of testimony concerning knowledge acquired during an unlawful search. Beyond that, the exclusionary rule also prohibits the introduction of derivative evidence, both tangible and testimonial, that is the product of the primary evidence, or that is otherwise acquired as an indirect result of the unlawful search, up to the point at which the connection with the unlawful search becomes "so attenuated as to dissipate the taint."

The "independent source" doctrine, which has been applied to evidence acquired not only through Fourth Amendment violations but also through Fifth and Sixth Amendment violations, has recently been described as follows: "[T]he interest of society in deterring unlawful police conduct and the public interest in having juries receive all probative evidence of a crime are properly balanced by putting the police in the same, not a worse, position that they would have been in if no police error or misconduct had occurred. . . . When the challenged evidence has an independent source, exclusion of such evidence would put the police in a worse position than they would have been in absent any error or violation."

The inevitable discovery doctrine, with its distinct requirements, is in reality an extrapolation from the independent source doctrine: Since the tainted evidence would be admissible if in fact discovered through an independent source, it should be admissible if it inevitably would have been discovered.

An officer with probable cause sufficient to obtain a search warrant would be foolish to enter the premises first in an unlawful manner. By doing so, he would risk suppression of all evidence on the premises, both seen and unseen, since his action would add to the normal burden of convincing a magistrate that there is probable cause the much more onerous burden of convincing a trial court that no information gained from the illegal entry affected either the law enforcement officers' decision to seek a warrant or the magistrate's decision to grant it. Nor would the officer without sufficient probable cause to obtain a search warrant have any added incentive to conduct an unlawful entry, since whatever he finds cannot be used to establish probable cause before a magistrate.

Knowledge that the marijuana was in the warehouse was assuredly acquired at the time of the unlawful entry. But it was also acquired at the time of entry pursuant to the warrant, and if that later acquisition was not the result of the earlier entry there is no reason why the independent source doctrine should not apply. Invoking the exclusionary rule would put the police (and society) not in the same position they would have occupied if no violation occurred, but in a worse one.

While the government should not profit from its illegal activity, neither should it be placed in a worse position than it would otherwise have occupied. So long as a later, lawful seizure is genuinely independent of an earlier, tainted one (which may well be difficult to establish where the seized goods are kept in the police's possession) there is no reason why the independent source doctrine should not apply.         

 

Key Takeaway

The exclusionary rule prohibits the introduction into evidence of the tangible materials seized during an unlawful search, and of testimony concerning knowledge acquired during an unlawful search. It also prohibits derivative evidence, both tangible and testimonial, that is the product of the primary evidence or is otherwise acquired as an indirect result of the unlawful search.


Court Syllabus:

While surveilling petitioner Murray and others suspected of illegal drug activities, federal agents observed both petitioners driving vehicles into, and later out of, a warehouse, and, upon petitioners' exit, saw that the warehouse contained a tractor-trailer rig bearing a long container. Petitioners later turned over their vehicles to other drivers, who were in turn followed and ultimately arrested, and the vehicles were lawfully seized and found to contain marijuana. After receiving this information, several agents forced their way into the warehouse and observed in plain view numerous burlap-wrapped bales. The agents left without disturbing the bales and did not return until they had obtained a warrant to search the warehouse. In applying for the warrant, they did not mention the prior entry or include any recitations of their observations made during that entry. Upon issuance of the warrant, they reentered the warehouse and seized 270 bales of marijuana and other evidence of crime. The District Court denied petitioners' pretrial motion to suppress the evidence, rejecting their arguments that the warrant was invalid because the agents did not inform the Magistrate about their prior warrantless entry, and that the warrant was tainted by that entry. Petitioners were subsequently convicted of conspiracy to possess and distribute illegal drugs. The Court of Appeals affirmed, assuming for purposes of its decision on the suppression question that the first entry into the warehouse was unlawful.

Held: The Fourth Amendment does not require the suppression of evidence initially discovered during police officers' illegal entry of private premises, if that evidence is also discovered during a later search pursuant to a valid warrant that is wholly independent of the initial illegal entry.

(a) The "independent source" doctrine permits the introduction of evidence initially discovered during, or as a consequence of, an unlawful search, but later obtained independently from lawful activities untainted by the initial illegality. There is no merit to petitioners' contention that allowing the doctrine to apply to evidence initially discovered during an illegal search, rather than limiting it to evidence first obtained during a later lawful search, will encourage police routinely to enter premises without a warrant.

(b) Although the federal agents' knowledge that marijuana was in the warehouse was assuredly acquired at the time of the unlawful entry, it was also acquired at the time of entry pursuant to the warrant, and if that later acquisition was not the result of the earlier entry, the independent source doctrine allows the admission of testimony as to that knowledge. This same analysis applies to the tangible evidence, the bales of marijuana. United States v. Silvestri is unpersuasive insofar as it distinguishes between tainted intangible and tangible evidence. The ultimate question is whether the search pursuant to warrant was in fact a genuinely independent source of the information and tangible evidence at issue. This would not have been the case if the agents' decision to seek the warrant was prompted by what they had seen during the initial entry or if information obtained during that entry was presented to the Magistrate and affected his decision to issue the warrant. Because the District Court did not explicitly find that the agents would have sought a warrant if they had not earlier entered the warehouse, the cases are remanded for a determination whether the warrant-authorized search of the warehouse was an independent source in the sense herein described.

Holding:

We vacate the judgment and remand these cases to the Court of Appeals with instructions that it remand to the District Court for determination whether the warrant-authorized search of the warehouse was an independent source of the challenged evidence in the sense we have described.