State vs. Shannon: Supreme Court 3-3 Stalemate Means No “Good Faith Exception” to the Exclusionary Rule

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

The 3-3 split in State v. Shannon on Aug. 19 means an Appellate Division ruling that evidence seized after an arrest based on an invalid arrest warrant must be suppressed is affirmed. Justice LaVecchia stated specifically opposing the Attorney General’s position in their brief, “We decline to carve out an exception to that explicit rejection in the manner requested by the state and the attorney general.”

Defendant Thomas Shannon was arrested on Oct. 18, 2011, in Asbury Park, based on an arrest warrant that had been vacated more than a year earlier. Both a trial judge and the Appellate Division ruled that the arrest was illegal since the police officer had no probable cause because the warrant had been vacated.

Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, joined by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Justice Barry Albin, said the exclusionary rule applies even when the error is made by a judicial officer. They explicitly rejected a request by the state Attorney General’s Office, which participated as amicus, to overturn the court’s 1987 ruling in State v. Novembrino, where the court declined to follow the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court and create a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule.  An invalid warrant cannot provide an objective and reasonable belief that probable cause exists to make a lawful arrest, LaVecchia said.

“To hold otherwise would be akin to adopting the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule that has been explicitly, and consistently, rejected by this court,” she said. “We decline to carve out an exception to that explicit rejection in the manner requested by the state and the attorney general.”

Justice Lee Solomon, joined by Justices Anne Patterson and Faustino Fernandez-Vina, said he would have overturned the lower court rulings that the evidence seized in this case must be suppressed.  Solomon, a former Camden County Prosecutor and vigilant supporter of the police and law enforcement, did not say that Novembrino should be overturned, but instead said that it should not apply in this case because there was no misconduct on the part of law enforcement, but rather an error made by an employee of the judiciary who failed to note on an official database that the arrest warrant had long since been vacated.  “… Novembrino must be read only to preclude good-faith reliance by police officers on a warrant when law enforcement personnel contribute to a mistake that renders the warrant invalid,” Solomon said.

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