480 U. S. 79
February 24, 1987
Baltimore police got a warrant to search an apartment on the third floor of an apartment complex for drugs. The police thought there was only one apartment on the third floor – one belonging to McWebb. In fact, there were two apartments on the third floor, and before the police realized their mistake, they found and seized drug evidence from the wrong apartment, which belonged to Garrison. Garrison tried to get the evidence suppressed, arguing that the police had failed to take appropriate care in delineating their warrant, and that any evidence seized from a home not belonging to the suspect was inadmissible.
Stevens wrote for a 6-3 majority, finding that the evidence was admissible. Stevens felt that the police had taken reasonable steps to determine the number of apartments on the third floor. The local gas and electric company told the police that the third floor had only one apartment. Thus, the warrant was not invalid. Furthermore, because the mistake in seizing evidence from the wrong apartment was based on innocent and reasonable mistake, there was no compelling Constitutional reason to suppress the evidence.
Blackmun dissented, and was joined by Brennan and Marshall. Blackmun argued that the police’s efforts to identify the number of apartments on the third floor were inadequate, notwithstanding the interview with the gas and electric company. He also felt that the officers should have been able to figure out there were two separate apartments after reaching the third floor, but before beginning the search. Finally, he disagreed with the majority that mistake provided an exception to the exclusionary rule.
Blackmun’s dissent doesn’t sit well with me. Way too much second guessing, Monday morning quarterbacking, and emphasis on what police should have done or figured out. On the facts in the opinions, I think the police were reasonable, and I don’t think suppressing the evidence from Garrison’s apartment would have served any important Constitutional concerns. Justice is better served by the truly guilty being convicted than it is by the truly guilty getting off on procedural technicalities.