Minnesota Adopts Good-Faith Exception to the Exclusionary Rule . . . Long Live the Exclusionary Rule!

Posted On August 19, 2015 by Daniel Koewler

Today the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a long awaited decision on whether or not to adopt the "good-faith| exception to the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule. In a 4-3 decision, the Court did decide to adopt the good-faith exception, over the dissent of three justices. The case was State v. Lindquist and you can read it yourself here.

What does this mean? Here's a brief primer: Normally, when law enforcement agents violate a person's constitutional rights, any evidence obtained as a result of that violation is suppressed. The |Exclusionary Rule| is what judges use to suppress the evidence â?? illegally obtained evidence is |excluded| from use at trial, no matter how powerful or crucial the evidence is to the State's case. One of the main reasons for such a rule is to motivate law enforcement agents to not violate the Constitution, knowing that if they do, the evidence they obtain is effectively useless.

The good-faith exception, at its heart, is designed to bypass the exclusionary rule in situations where law enforcement not only didn't know they were breaking the law, but actually thought they were following it. In State v. Lindquist, the officers executed a warrantless search of the driver's blood, and didn't bother to get a warrant . . . because, at the time, Minnesota law said they never needed to get a warrant in DWI cases. In 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down Minnesota law and said it was unconstitutional . . . but the blood draw in the Lindquist case happened in 2011.

So today, the Minnesota Supreme Court decided that even if evidence is obtained illegally, it can still be used in court (and not be excluded) if (and only if) law enforcement were only following the clearly stated law at the time. The Court concluded that if the police think they are following the law, suppressing/excluding evidence simply won't deter any constitutional violations, because |any error rests with the judges and not the police.| Make sense?

The bigger question, of course, is |what does this mean?| In the DWI context, it actually means very little. The good-faith exception only applies to |objectively reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent.| This is a pretty narrow exception. For example, it applies to cases where a clear cut rule was in place (like in 2011, when the single-factor exigency rule meant that no warrants were necessary in DWI cases). But today, there is no clear cut rule in DWI cases â?? the overwhelming majority of blood, breath, and urine tests are still being taken without warrants, but the only |rule| is that judges need to analyze law enforcement's behavior under the |totality of the circumstances.| That's not a rule, that's a broad, broad guideline, and if Minnesota's laws get overturned again by the United States Supreme Court, a lot of cases are going to get thrown out of court regardless of our new |good-faith exception.|

We could write a small novel about the Lindquist decision, but we won't (at least not today). The case addressed a lot of issues dealing with Minnesota's Constitution, federalism, and as is typical lately, it contained a very spirited dissent. If you're inclined, give the case a read. If not, stick around, as we'll be addressing some of those interesting (but less practical) concerns in future blog posts.