Third Circuit decision highlights power of “good faith exception” to the exclusionary rule

Oct 08, 2014   

October 8th, 2014

We previously discussed the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in United States v. Katzin, wherein the Court found that a warrant is required for GPS monitoring and that there was no good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule.  However, on October 1, 2014, the Third Circuit sitting en banc  overruled the decision of the three judge panel and held that although a warrant is required to use a GPS monitor, because the state of the law before the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in United States v. Jones supported the FBI agent’s action, the exclusionary rule did not apply.

The Good Faith Exception to the Exclusionary Rule

By reversing its earlier decision, the Third Circuit joined the Second, Fifth Seventh, and Ninth Circuits which have also held that the use and installation of a GPS device without a warrant prior to the Supreme Court’s Jones decision did not require the suppression of the evidence because of the “good faith exception” to the exclusionary rule. Consistent with the Supreme Court’s decisions in Knotts and Karo, both of which stand for the proposition that law enforcement searches which are conducted with an objectively reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent are not subject to the exclusionary rule, the Third Circuit ruled that the FBI agent acted in good faith reliance upon Jones and therefore the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied. In other words, even though the agent’s search was subsequently deemed to be unlawful, because at the time of the search he relied in good faith on binding judicial precedent, the evidence obtained as the fruit of that “unlawful” search was nevertheless allowed to be used against the defendant from whom it was obtained.

As explained by the Third Circuit sitting en banc, the recent trend in Supreme Court jurisprudence is to limit the scope and application of the exclusionary rule to those “unusual cases” in which the suppression of illegally obtained evidence may “appreciably deter governmental violations of the Fourth Amendment.” Indeed, as the Third Circuit observed, the cost of suppressing illegally obtained evidence is that evidence of a criminal defendant’s guilt, even though reliable and trustworthy, will not be admitted “thereby ‘suppress[ing] the truth and set[ting] [a] criminal loose in the community without punishment.”

The Ramifications

Law enforcement’s ability to avoid the suppression of evidence has been dramatically expanded. Katzin and similar decisions in other federal courts are incredibly powerful means for law enforcement to circumvent the Fourth Amendment. Thus, in all criminal cases where a defendant attempts to challenge evidence based upon law enforcement’s clear violations of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, one should anticipate the prosecution’s attempt to establish that law enforcement relied in good faith upon some binding appellate precedent, even if that precedent has since been overruled.

The attorneys at Fuerst Ittleman David & Joseph, PL have extensive experience litigating and trying criminal cases both at the state and federal levels including before the United States Courts of Appeal.  You can contact us via email: or via telephone:  305.350.5690.