Errors in Good Faith: The Leon Exception Six Years Later

Given this vast literature on the good faith exception, little room appears to exist for additional commentary on the propriety of the decision, its theoretical weaknesses or strengths, or what further changes in constitutional criminal procedure it forebodes. This Note will not add to the many voices complaining of the Court’s misconstrual of the grounding of the exclusionary rule, nor of its crabbed notion of deterrence. Instead, it accepts, arguendo, the propriety of the exception and its underlying purpose, and then examines the six-year experience with the revised rule. The proliferation of reported applications of the good faith exception since its adoption in 1984 now allows an analysis of the rule that investigates how well understood the change has been and whether the exception is being used to admit evidence that properly (even under Leon) should be suppressed. This Note examines a set of application errors committed by state and lower federal courts since 1984. Part I briefly describes the exclusionary rule and United States v. Leon. Part II then presents examples of types of errors made by courts applying the good faith exception. Finally, Part III discusses the factors that combined to increase the incidence of application error for this rule and suggests possible remedial tactics. It argues that much of the responsibility for the mistakes must rest with the mislabeled and complex exception crafted in Leon, and that the exclusionary rule’s goal of deterrence would best be served by the pre-Leon rule which, because it retained a simple, inviolate exclusionary sanction in its central application, would more often be properly enforced.