Arizona v. Evans 1995

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Arizona v. Evans 1995

Petitioner: State of Arizona

Respondent: Issac Evans

Petitioner's Claim: That marijuana found during an illegal arrest caused by a computer error could be used to convict Evans.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioner: Gerald Grant

Chief Lawyer for Respondent: Carol Carrigan

Justices for the Court: Stephen Breyer, Anthony M. Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor, William H. Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, David H. Souter, Clarence Thomas

Justices Dissenting: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens

Date of Decision: March 1, 1995

Decision: The Supreme Court said Arizona could use the evidence if the computer error was not the police department's fault.

Significance: Evans makes it easier for states to use evidence they get in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects privacy. It requires federal law enforcement officers to get a warrant to arrest and search a suspected criminal. To get a warrant, law enforcement must have probable cause, which means good reason to believe the person to be arrested has committed a crime. State law enforcement officers must obey the Fourth Amendment under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

To enforce the Fourth Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court created the exclusionary rule. This rule prevents the government from convicting a defendant with evidence found during an arrest or search that violates the Fourth Amendment. Without the exclusionary rule, the police would be encouraged to disobey the Fourth Amendment because they still could use any evidence they found.

Computer Glitch

Bryan Sargent was a police officer in Phoenix, Arizona. In January 1991, Sargent saw Issac Evans driving the wrong way on a one-way street in front of a police station. Sargent stopped Evans and asked to see his driver's license. Evans told Sargent he did not have a license because it had been suspended.

Sargent went back to his police car to enter Evans's name into a computer data terminal. The computer told Sargent that Evans's license had been suspended. It also said there was a warrant for Evans's arrest for failure to appear in court for traffic violations. On the strength of the warrant, Sargent returned to Evans's car and arrested him. While he was being handcuffed, Evans dropped a hand-rolled cigarette that smelled like marijuana, an illegal drug. The police searched Evans's car and found a whole bag of marijuana under the passenger seat.

The state of Arizona charged Evans with illegal possession of marijuana. It soon learned, however, that the warrant to arrest Evans did not exist when Sargent made the arrest. Evans had appeared in court seventeen days before the arrest to resolve his traffic violations. Unfortunately, the court clerk forgot to call the sheriff's office to tell it to erase the warrant from its computer system. When the computer told Sargent there was a warrant for Evans's arrest, the computer was wrong. That made the arrest illegal under the Fourth Amendment.

Without the arrest, the police never would have found Evans's marijuana. At Evans's trial, his lawyer made a motion to enforce the exclusionary rule by getting rid of the marijuana evidence. Without that evidence, the court would have to dismiss Arizona's case against Evans. The trial court granted the motion, so Arizona took the case all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Good Faith Exception

With a 7–2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Arizona. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said the exclusionary rule does not apply to every violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court designed the exclusionary rule to discourage police misconduct. If the police believe in good faith that they are obeying the Fourth Amendment, there is no reason to apply the exclusionary rule.

Officer Sargent thought he had a valid warrant to arrest Issac Evans. The fact that there was a computer error was the court clerk's fault. The clerk was the one who failed to tell the sheriff's office to erase the warrant for Evans's arrest. Since Officer Sargent thought he was obeying the Fourth Amendment when he arrested Evans, there was no reason to apply the exclusionary rule. Arizona was allowed to proceed with its case against Evans for illegal possession of marijuana.

Big Brother

Two justices dissented, which means they disagreed with the Court's decision. Justice John Paul Stevens did not think the Fourth Amendment and the exclusionary rule were designed to discourage police misconduct alone. He said they were designed to prevent all state actors, including courts, from violating the Fourth Amendment.

In her own dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cautioned against allowing the police to rely on new computer systems that might contain lots of errors. Quoting the Arizona Supreme Court, Ginsburg said, "It is repugnant to the principles of a free society that a person should ever be taken into custody because of a computer error [caused] by government carelessness."


When the Supreme Court created the exclusionary rule for the federal government in Weeks v. United States (1914), it strengthened the Fourth Amendment for American citizens. The Court strengthened the amendment even further when it applied the exclusionary rule to state governments in Mapp v. Ohio (1961). Since then, the Court has weakened the Fourth Amendment by creating exceptions such as the "good faith" exception in Arizona v. Evans. Some think the exceptions are necessary to help law enforcement protect society from dangerous criminals. Others think the exceptions allow law enforcement officers to harass American citizens with warrantless searches and illegal arrests.


J ustice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who dissented in Arizona v. Evans, set an example of excellence for women and men in the legal profession. Born on March 15, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, Ginsburg grew up in a middle class family. Along with the opportunity that brought, Ginsburg fought through gender discrimination to work her way to the nation's highest court.

When Ginsburg attended Harvard Law School in 1956, she was told that she and her eight female classmates were taking places away from qualified men. After transferring to Columbia Law School and graduating top in her class, Ginsburg failed to receive a job offer from any law firm. Even Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter refused to hire Ginsburg as a law clerk because he was not ready to hire a woman.

Ginsburg did not let the discrimination stop her. After working for a district court judge in New York, Ginsburg taught law at Rutgers University, Harvard, and then Columbia. From 1973 to 1980, she worked as an attorney on the Women's Rights Project for the American Civil Liberties Union. In that role, Ginsburg surprised people by taking on cases supporting equal rights for both men and women. Ginsburg did not think equal rights meant greater rights for women than for men.

Ginsburg served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia from 1980 to 1993. As a judge, Ginsburg again surprised many people by being more conservative than she was as a lawyer. Still, President William J. Clinton appointed Ginsburg to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993. In 1996, Justice Ginsburg wrote an opinion that ended gender discrimination by all-male state military colleges in the United States.

Suggestions for further reading

Franklin, Paula A. The Fourth Amendment. Englewood Cliffs: Silver Burdett Press, 1991.

Mooney, Louise, ed. Newsmakers: The People Behind Today's Headlines. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1993.

Persico, Deborah A. Mapp v. Ohio: Evidence and Search Warrants. Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1997.

—-New Jersey v. T.L.O: Drug Searches in Schools. Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1998.

Shattuck, John H.F. Rights of Privacy. Skokie: National Textbook Co., 1977.

Wetterer, Charles M.The Fourth Amendment: Search and Seizure. Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1998.

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Arizona v. Evans 1995

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