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U.S. v. RUSH, NO. 14-4695

Decided: December 21, 2015

The Fourth Circuit reversed the order of the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings.

On May 23, 2012, Marquita Willis (“Willis”) called the Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Network Team of Charleston, West Virginia (“MDENT”) to inform them that she suspected Defendant Kenneth Rush (“Rush”) of dealing drugs from her apartment. Willis gave the police officers a key to her apartment. The officers found Defendant asleep in the master bedroom. After waking Defendant, the officers handcuffed and questioned Defendant. Sergeant Winkler told Defendant that the officers had a warrant to search the apartment, however, they did not in fact have a warrant. In a search of the apartment, the officers found crack cocaine and digital scales. Defendant was arrested and charged with one count of knowingly and intentionally possessing with intent to distribute twenty-eight grams or more of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Defendant moved in limine to suppress the evidence obtained from the warrantless search of Willis’s apartment. The district court found a constitutional violation, however, it denied the motion to suppress. The court noted that the police lied “in a justifiable effort to protect Willis.”

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit noted that both parties agreed that the Defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated. The parties, however, disagreed about whether the resulting evidence should be suppressed. The Court stated that exclusion of evidence is appropriate when the deterrence benefits of suppression outweigh the “substantial social costs” of excluding the evidence. The Court cited United States Supreme Court case law that found a good-faith exception, “when police act with an objectively reasonable good-faith belief that their conduct is lawful.”

In this case, the Court found that the search was unconstitutional due to the intentional decision of Sergeant Winkler to tell Defendant that he had a search warrant, when he did not. Furthermore, the Court held that the good-faith exception did not apply because the officers did not hold an objectively reasonable belief that it was lawful to conduct the search after lying about the existence of a warrant. The government argued that the officers acted in good faith because the officers merely sought to protect Willis. The Court, however, disagreed and reiterated that the good-faith exception only applies if the officers have an objectively reasonable belief that their conduct is actually lawful. Therefore, the Court found that the good-faith exception did not apply in this case.

Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded the case.

Full Opinion

Meredith Weisler