Just a few days ago the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently decided McClintock v. State. McClintock lived in a residence above a business accessible via a stairway at the back of the building. Police took a drug sniffing dog to the top step of those stairs and the dog alerted to the presence of drugs. Based on that, police obtained a warrant, found marijuana, and charged McClintock. McClintock filed a motion to suppress the evidence arguing that the dog sniff was an illegal search which violated the 4th Amendment. About that he was absolutely right: the dog sniff was a search that undeniably violated the 4th Amendment. The CCA, however, decided that if the police reasonably believes the evidence he used to get the warrant was legally obtained, then that “good faith reliance” erases the illegality of the search and makes everything a-okay.
Did you get that? It doesn’t matter how illegal the officer’s actions in obtaining evidence. As long as he “reasonably” thinks he was acting legally, it’s okay. I wonder how often the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (which is infamously police/prosecution-oriented) will find the officer’s reliance to not be reasonable? Hmm…
This is patently absurd. Not only is the rule being created here ambiguous and hard to pin down (when is it reasonable? how do you determine that?) it’s also disengenuous. Police get ongoing training on search and seizure law. They are trained on what they can and cannot do. Based on that they should’ve reasonably known this was an illegal search. And beyond that, think of the real-world implications of this – this basically incentivizes police departments to intentionally under-train their officers on the bounds of legal search and seizure. Hell, what they don’t know won’t be held against them, so why teach ’em anything, RIGHT?