Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Republican attack on Bill of Rights continues

Wednesday's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court limiting the scope of the exclusionary rule -- which bars the government from using evidence obtained improperly in criminal prosecutions -- was a timely reminder of the damage done by the Bush administration to the Bill of Rights. The court, with two George W. Bush appointees voting with the 5-4 majority, decided that an Alabama man's arrest for possession of contraband was legal even though he had been improperly searched by police, according to the New York Times. The ruling further limits the exclusionary rule, which was extended to all states after a seminal Supreme Court ruling on the Fourth Amendment in 1961. In Wednesday's decision, the Supreme Court held that the exclusionary rule does not bar improperly obtained evidence if the improper search was the result of "isolated negligence." In the actual case, the high court upheld the drug possession case against an Alabama man, Bennie Dean Herring, who was arrested and searched by the Coffee County, Ala., sheriff's department on an arrest warrant that turned out to have been invalid. “When police mistakes leading to an unlawful search are the result of isolated negligence attenuated from the search, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements, the exclusionary rule does not apply,” Chief Justice Roberts said in the majority decision joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito, Jr. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer dissented from the ruling. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer. "The court’s opinion underestimates the need for a forceful exclusionary rule and the gravity of recordkeeping errors in the law enforcement,” Justice Ginsburg wrote. “Negligent recordkeeping errors by law enforcement threaten individual liberty, are susceptible to deterrence by the exclusionary rule, and cannot be remedied effectively through other means." The ruling came just a week before Bush, who appointed Alito and Roberts to the high court, is scheduled to leave office.

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