A state statute, as it existed in 1981, required licensed motor vehicle and vehicular parts sellers to permit state officials to inspect certain records. Pursuant to the statute, a police officer entered the defendant’s wrecking yard and asked to inspect records of vehicle purchases. The defendant stated that the records could not be found but gave the officer a list of approximately five purchases. The officer received permission from the defendant to look at the cars in the yard. He discovered that three were stolen and a fourth had its identification number removed. The officer seized the cars and arrested the defendant. An appellant court subsequently held that the statute was unconstitutional because it allowed too much discretion in the officers conducting the examinations.
Whether the exclusionary rule commands the suppression of the evidence?
No. The Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule does not apply to evidence obtained by the government who acted in objectively reasonable reliance upon a statute.
The purpose of the exclusionary rule is to discourage officers from engaging in unreasonable searches and seizures. The application of the exclusionary rule in this case would not affect future police misconduct. Officers conducting such searches were simply fulfilling their responsibility to enforce the statute as written. If a statute is not clearly unconstitutional, reviewing courts cannot expect officers to question the judgment of the legislature that passed the law.
Applying the exclusionary rule to deter legislative misconduct is ineffective. There is also no indication that the exclusion of evidence seized pursuant to a statute subsequently declared unconstitutional would affect the enactment of similar laws. Law enforcement officers, not legislators, are the focus of the rule.
480 U.S. 340, 107 S. Ct. 1160 (1987)