New Maryland 4th Amendment Case Agurs v. State

by Professor Byron L. Warnken on May 20, 2010

Agurs, below, is a Maryland case.  For the single 2010 Supreme Court 4th Amendment Case, please see 2010, 4th Amendment SCOTUS.


A half century ago, if police officer, in a state court, violated Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights, there was not much the citizen could do.  State court defendants were regularly convicted on evidence that police illegally seized.  In 1961, in Mapp v. Ohio, the Supreme Court, under Earl Warren, applied the exclusionary rule to state court proceedings.  Under the exclusionary rule, the State could not use evidence that the police seized illegally.  The theory was that if, when the police violate the Constitution, they may not use valuable evidence against the Defendant, police behavior would be modified, as police would have incentive to comply with the Fourth Amendment.

Generally, to ensure that a search complies with the Fourth Amendment, police need a warrant, supported by an affidavit, in which the police set forth facts, under oath, subject to perjury, that demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that “fruits, evidence, or instrumentalities” of a crime are located in a particularly named place, e.g., home, vehicle, office.  The Supreme Court has developed various “exceptions” to the warrant requirement.  Nonetheless, a search warrant has always been preferred because, with a warrant, there is a “neutral and detached magistrate” evaluating the facts allegedly supporting the warrant.

To reinforce this notion, in 1984, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Leon, which held that, if the police obtain a warrant, as oppose to making a warrantless entry, they should be rewarded.  Leon created a “good faith” exception, which permits evidence to be admitted, even if obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, if it was obtained, in good faith, pursuant to a warrant, and evidence obtained based on a warrant was presumptively obtained in “good faith,” provided the police acted in good faith belief that they complied with the Fourth Amendment.  Thus, the government almost always wins if the evidence was seized based on a warrant.

On May 19, 2010, the Court of Appeals of Maryland (Maryland’s Supreme Court) filed a 4-to-3 opinion in Agurs v. State.  Although it is rare for a defendant to prevail when challenging a search executed with a warrant, that is exactly what happened in Agurs.  The Court held that the police did not qualify for the “good faith” exception because they had no probable cause – only mere speculation — to believe drugs were in the defendant’s house.  The Court held:  (1) Evidence of drugs was so flimsy that no reasonably trained police officer could have believed that the information in the warrant application and affidavit constituted probable cause to believe drugs were on the premises.  (2) Because there was absolutely no probable cause, the police did not satisfy the “good faith” exception.  (3) Because the police did not qualify for the “good faith” exception, the exclusionary rule applies, and the evidence is inadmissible.

At trial, the Circuit Court for Baltimore County suppressed the evidence, finding the warrant was invalid and the “good faith” exception did not apply.  The Court of Special Appeals (Maryland’s intermediate appellate court) reversed, finding that, although the warrant was invalid, the police acted in good faith.  The Court of Appeals reversed the Court of Special Appeals, holding that the warrant was invalid, and the government did not qualify for the “good faith” exception.  The Court found that (1) the warrant did not allege any observation of the defendant with drugs; (2) there was only innocent behavior alleged; and (3) there was no evidence of drugs in the house.

Going forward, if the State were to try this case, it may not use the drugs, handgun, or $30,000 obtained from the house.  Alternatively, the State could request the Supreme Court of the United States to take this case.  The Supreme Court only takes about 75 cases a year from among about 9,000 petitions, but this is the kind of case the Supreme Court takes.


forex robot May 23, 2010 at 12:45 am

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psl June 4, 2010 at 10:33 pm

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