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Acting in Good Faith: The Effects of United States v. (Versus) Leon on the Police and Courts

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1988
29 pages
In United States v. Leon (1984) the U.S. Supreme Court held that the exclusionary rule need not be applied to remedy fourth amendment violations when police officers obtain evidence in reasonable, good-faith reliance on a search warrant later found to be defective; this article presents the results of a study that examined the effects of this decision on the policies and practices of the police, prosecutors, and courts regarding search warrants.
A previous study of the search-warrant process conducted by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) provided the background for this study. Using the 7 sites examined by the NCSC and an additional 30 randomly selected cities across the Nation, the study analyzed the impact of the reasonable, good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. Archival review of search warrant applications, in-person interviews with key criminal justice personnel, telephone interviews with police and prosecutors, and a case law review of recent State supreme court decisions were the primary information sources for the study. The study found that, overall, the empirical effects of the "Leon" decision have been minimal. Police practices regarding search warrants apparently have not changed as a result of the decision. The number, content, and quality of search warrants as measured through quantitative data have not been affected by the decision. Neither have practices changed at the trial level. Motions to suppress prosecution evidence have not declined in either number or success rate. There is no evidence that police administrators and prosecutors have altered their policies on search warrant procedures as a result of the decision. Implications and limitations of these findings are noted, and future research is recommended. 111 footnotes

Date Published: January 1, 1988