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Massachusetts v. Sheppard


The defendant was a suspect in a murder case. An officer drafted an affidavit for a search warrant for the defendant’s house. As it was Sunday, the local court was closed, and the officer had a difficult time finding a warrant application form. One officer found a warrant form for a controlled substance violation. He proceeded to make changes to the form to adapt it to his search but he failed to delete the reference to “controlled substance.”

The officer took the affidavit form to the home of a judge. He told the judge that the form as presented dealt with controlled substances and showed the judge where he had crossed out subtitles. After unsuccessfully searching for a more suitable form, the judge said he would make the necessary changes. The judge then took the form, made some changes to it, and signed it. However, the judge did not change the section that authorized a search for “controlled substances.” Officers searched the defendant’s house and found several items of evidence. At a pretrial suppression hearing, the trial judge concluded the warrant violated the Fourth Amendment because it did not particularize the items to be seized. However, the judge admitted the evidence because the police had acted in good faith reliance on the warrant. The defendant was convicted.


1. Whether the officers could reasonably believe that the search they conducted was authorized by a valid warrant?

2. Whether the law requires the exclusion of evidence seized under a defective warrant issued by an appropriate judicial officer?


1. Yes. The officers were justified in believing that the search they conducted was authorized by a valid warrant.

2. No. The law does not mandate the exclusion of evidence seized under a defective warran


Citing United States v. Leon, the Supreme Court held that the exclusionary rule should not be applied when the officer conducting the search acted in reasonable reliance on a warrant issued by a neutral and detached magistrate. The officers took every necessary step that the Court could reasonably expect of them. Officers are entitled to rely on warrants that they reasonably believe are lawfully issued. The exclusionary rule is designed to deter unreasonable actions by law enforcement officers.


468 U.S. 981, 104 S. Ct. 3424 (1984)

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