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Court says evidence valid despite police error

The Associated Press

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that evidence found after an arrest based on incorrect information from police files may be used against a criminal suspect.

In a 5-4 split, the court upheld the conviction of an Alabama man on federal drug and gun charges.

Bennie Dean Herring was arrested on what the Coffee County, Ala., sheriff's department thought was a valid warrant from a neighboring county. It turned out that the warrant for Herring's arrest had been recalled five months earlier.

Herring argued that police negligence should automatically lead to the suppression of evidence found after an unjustified arrest.

But Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, said the evidence may be used "when police mistakes are the result of negligence such as that described here, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements."

Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas sided with Roberts.

In a dissent for the other four justices, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the ruling "leaves Herring, and others like him, with no remedy for violations of their constitutional rights."

Ginsburg said accurate police record-keeping is of paramount importance, particularly with the widespread use of electronic databases. Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens also dissented.

Herring was arrested after a neighboring Dale County sheriff's employee found a computer entry noting that Herring was wanted for failing to appear in court on a felony charge. The sheriff's computer database had not been updated to reflect the recall of the warrant for Herring's arrest.

Meanwhile, in a search after Herring's arrest, Coffee County deputies found methamphetamine in Herring's pockets and an unloaded gun under the front seat of his truck.

Some courts have ruled that as a deterrent to police misconduct, the fruits of a similar search may be excluded from evidence.

But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta said that suppressing evidence in Herring's case would be unlikely to deter sloppy record keeping.

The case is Herring v. U.S., 07-513.