26 February 2005

A Surprise From The Virginia Court of Appeals

I am pleased to announce that the Virginia Court of Appeals has applied the Exclusionary Rule to violations of state law. You read that correctly, the Court of Appeals held in Moore v. Commonwealth that when law enforcement breaks state statutes, the fruits of the unlawful arrest are inadmissible.

Moore was driving with his dog, when several law enforcement officers pulled him over. The officers were under the mistaken belief that Moore was an individual who had just been released from a federal penitentiary. The officers realized their mistake, but also discovered that Moore was driving with a suspended license. Under Virginia Code 46.2-301(C) driving with a suspended license is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

In Moore, the officers arrested Moore for driving with a suspended license. However, under Virginia Code 19.2-74 the officers were required to issue Moore a summons. Thus, the officers broke Virginia state law.

The Court of Appeals extended the Supreme Court holding of Knowles v. Iowa. In Knowles, the Supreme Court held that when an police officer conducts a search when only a citation has been issued the fruits of the search are unconstitutional. Thanks to Moore, when an officer unlawfully arrests an individual under Virginia state law, the fruits of the search incident to arrest are inadmissible in court.

For more analysis on the Exclusionary Rule at the Constitutional level see Repercussions When Law Enforcement Breaks the Law. Additionally, it is possible that the outcome of the case will change when the Virginia Supreme Court weighs in on the issue.

Two Corrections: In the previous article, I incorrectly stated that the Virginia Supreme Court was reviewing Moore v. Commonwealth. Although the Virginia Supreme Court has reviewed a case by the same name, it is a different case with a very different issue. I apologize for any confusion. Also I incorrectly predicted that the Virginia Court would hold that the evidence would be admissible if only state law is broken. I am happy to be proven wrong.

1 comment:

Ken Lammers said...

The dissent actully argues the way I had previously - that violating the law does not rise to violating the constitution and therefore the evidence should not have been excluded.

I was impressed by the court's reasoning but worry that it may be a little too complex. Unfortunately, through experience I know that a simple, wrong answer has as good a chance as a complicated correct answer.

BTW: When I pointed this opinion out to a prosecutor he asked whether it had been a 3 judge panel. When I replied that it had he opined with certitude that it will be overturned en banc.