Exclusionary Doctrine

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Virginia v. Moore

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 issued a ruling that tested the constitutional limits of searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Court in Virginia v. Moore,—U.S.—, 128 S.Ct. 1598,—L. Ed. 2d—(2008) ruled that the Fourth Amendment does not require exclusion of evidence obtained in search during an arrest following a stop of a motorist who was driving without a license. In an unanimous decision, the Court held that the Fourth Amendment does not provide a remedy for what amounts to a violation of a state statute .

The case arose from an incident on February 20, 2003. Detective B.J. Karpowski overheard a police radio conversation about a man nicknamed “Chubs” driving in the area. The person who went by “Chubs” was David Lee Moore, who had recently been released from the state penitentiary. Karpowski informed other officers in the area about the call and told the officers to stop Moore's car.

Two other detectives, Mike Anthony and T. McAndrew, heard Karpowski's message and then found Moore. They stopped Moore's car and determined that he was driving on a suspended license. After confirming the status of Moore's license, the officers arrested him, handcuffed him, and placed him in McAndrew's vehicle. Because of a miscommunication between the officers, they did not search Moore at the time of his initial arrest. The officer, though, had to wait 45 minutes for animal control services to pick up a dog that was riding in Moore's vehicle.

After animal control arrived, the officers drove Moore to a hotel where he was staying. They gave him Miranda warnings and obtained his signature to search the hotel room. McAndrew then searched Moore and discovered a packet of crack cocaine and $516 in cash. When asked why the officers initially decided to arrest Moore, Anthony said, “Just our prerogative, we chose to effect an arrest. Additionally, subsequent to that traffic stop, narcotics were eventually recovered.”

Moore was stopped for what amounted to a Class 1 misdemeanor . Under Virginia Code 19.2-74, the detectives should have issued Moore a summons and released him from custody after they secured his promise to appear to answer the summons. The officers could have arrested Moore if he were suspected of drunk driving, failed or refused to discontinue an unlawful act, gave the officers reason to believe that he would disregard the summons, or gave the officers reasonable belief that he was likely to harm himself or someone else. None of these exceptions applied to Moore, and so under state law, the officers should not have arrested him.

Moore argued before the trial court that the evidence found during the search of him following his arrest should be suppressed because the seizure of the evidence violated the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The trial court denied his motion to suppress, and after a bench trial , the court convicted Moore of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Moore received a five-year sentence, with eighteen months suspended.

Moore appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeals of Virginia. A divided panel of the court determined that the officers' search of Moore violated Moore's Fourth Amendment rights. Moore v. Commonwealth, 609 S.E.2d 74 (Va. App. 2005). The appellate court reheard the case en banc, however, and affirmed the conviction, finding that the search did not violate the Constitution. Moore v. Commonwealth, 622 S.E.2d 253 (Va. App. 2005). The Virginia Supreme Court then decided to hear the case and reversed the Court of Appeals. Moore v. Commonwealth, 636 S.E.2d 395 (Va. 2006).

According to the Virginia Supreme Court, Moore's case was controlled by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Knowles v. Iowa, 525 U.S. 113, 119 S. Ct. 484, 142 L. Ed. 2d 492 (1998) and the Virginia Supreme Court's decision in Lovelace v. Commonwealth, 522 S.E.2d 856 (Va. 1999). In Knowles, an Iowa police officer had stopped a motorist for speeding and issued a citation. After issuing the citation, the officer conducted a full search of Knowles' vehicle and found marijuana. The Supreme Court determined that the search violated the Fourth Amendment because the officer had not conducted the search pursuant to a lawful arrest.

In Lovelace, the Virginia Supreme Court reviewed a case involving the search of man who had been arrested for drinking an alcoholic beverage. Officers in that case suspected that the defendant had been drinking and had thrown an empty beer bottle in the direction of the officers. During a search of the defendant following his arrest, the officers found crack cocaine and marijuana. The defendant was convicted of possession. After a series of appeals, the Virginia Supreme Court determined that the search was unconstitutional under the authority of Knowles, largely because 19.2-74 does not authorize officers to arrest a suspect but rather only issue a summons.

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Virginia Supreme Court. In an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court determined that neither the history of the Fourth Amendment nor traditional reasonableness standards supported the conclusion that the Fourth Amendment required exclusion of evidence pursuant to this type of arrest.

The Court specifically rejected the argument that the result in Knowles controlled the outcome in the case. “The Virginia Supreme Court may have concluded that Knowles required the exclusion of evidence seized from Moore because, under state law, the officers who arrested Moore should have issued him a citation instead,” Scalia wrote. “This argument might have force if the Constitution forbade Moore's arrest, because we have sometimes excluded evidence obtained through unconstitutional methods in order to deter constitutional violations. But the arrest rules that the officers violated were those of state law alone, and as we have just concluded, it is not the province of the Fourth Amendment to enforce state law. That Amendment does not require the exclusion of evidence obtained from a constitutionally permissible arrest.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a concurring opinion, where she argued that Moore's position had more historical support than the majority concluded. However, she otherwise agreed with the rationale of the Court's opinion.