Utah v. Strieff, No.14-1373, __US__ (June 20, 2016).

Thomas, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Breyer, and Alito, JJ., joined. Sotomayor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, J., joined as to Parts I, II, and III. Kagan, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, J., joined.


Narcotics detective Douglas Fackrell conducted surveillance on a South Salt Lake City residence based on an anonymous tip about drug ac­tivity. …  After observing respondent Edward Strieff leave the residence, Officer Fackrell detained Strieff at a nearby parking lot, identifying himself and asking Strieff what he was doing at the house. He then requested Strieff’s identification and relayed the information to a police dispatcher, who informed him that Strieff had an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation. Officer Fackrell arrested Strieff, searched him, and found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. Strieff moved to suppress the evidence, ar­guing that it was derived from an unlawful investigatory stop. The trial court denied the motion, and the Utah Court of Appeals af­firmed. The Utah Supreme Court reversed, however, and ordered the evidence suppressed.

Held: The evidence Officer Fackrell seized incident to Strieff’s arrest is admissible based on an   application of the attenuation factors from Brown v. Illinois, 422 U. S. 590.  In this case, there was no flagrant police misconduct. Therefore, Officer Fackrell’s discovery of a valid, pre-existing, and untainted arrest warrant attenuated the connection between the unconstitutional investigatory stop and the evidence seized incident to a lawful arrest. Pp. 4–10.

As the primary judicial remedy for deterring Fourth Amend­ment violations, the exclusionary rule encompasses both the “primary evidence obtained as a direct result of an illegal search or seizure” and, relevant here, “evidence later discovered and found to be deriva­tive of an illegality.” Segura v. United States, 468 U. S. 796, 804. But to ensure that those deterrence benefits are not outweighed by the rule’s substantial social costs, there are several exceptions to the rule. One exception is the attenuation doctrine, which provides for admissibility when the connection between unconstitutional police conduct and the evidence is sufficiently remote or has been interrupt­ed by some intervening circumstance. See Hudson v. Michigan, 547  U. S. 586, 593. Pp. 4–5.

… As a threshold matter, the attenuation doctrine is not limited to the defendant’s independent acts. The doctrine therefore applies here, where the intervening circumstance is the discovery of a valid, pre-existing, and untainted arrest warrant. …

…Three factors articulated in Brown v. Illinois, 422 U. S. 590, lead to this conclusion. The first, “temporal proximity” between the initially unlawful stop and the search, id., at 603, favors suppressing the evidence. … In contrast, the second factor, “the presence of intervening circumstances, id., at 603–604, strongly favors the State. The existence of a valid warrant, predating the in­vestigation and entirely unconnected with the stop, favors finding sufficient attenuation between the unlawful conduct and the discov­ery of evidence. … The third factor, “the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct,” id., at 604, also strongly favors the State. Officer Fackrell was at most negligent, but his errors in judgment hardly rise to a purposeful or flagrant viola­tion of Strieff’s Fourth Amendment rights. …

… Strieff’s counterarguments are unpersuasive. First, neither Officer Fackrell’s purpose nor the flagrancy of the violation rises to a level of misconduct warranting suppression. … Second, it is unlikely that the prevalence of outstanding warrants will lead to dragnet searches by police. Such misconduct would expose police to civil liability and, in any event, is already accounted for by Brown’s “purpose and flagrancy” factor. Pp. 9–10.

We hold that the evidence Officer Fackrell seized as part of his search incident to arrest is admissible because his discovery of the arrest warrant attenuated the connection between the unlawful stop and the evidence seized from Strieff incident to arrest. The judgment of the Utah Su­preme Court, accordingly, is reversed. (2015 UT 2, 357 P. 3d 532, reversed.)

It is so ordered.

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