People For the American Way

Trump Judge Rejects Exclusionary Rule in Violation of the Fourth Amendment: Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears

News and Analysis

“Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties.

Trump 11th Circuit judge Kevin Newsom casts the deciding vote to reject the exclusionary rule despite acknowledging that an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated.

In U.S. v. Taylor, the FBI submitted an application for a search warrant in the Eastern District of Virginia. It sought permission to use a computer code known as National Investigative Technique (NIT) to enable the FBI to unmask anonymous or untraceable internet users. The FBI had reason to believe that evidence of child pornography related crimes was contained on property located in the Eastern District of Virginia. Not long after the warrant was granted, the FBI identified James Taylor as a computer user who accessed images of child pornography. His computer was located in Birmingham, Ala., outside of the Eastern District of Virginia. A magistrate judge in Alabama authorized a search of Taylor’s home, where a laptop, a hard drive and a USB drive were seized.

Taylor was charged with receiving, possessing and accessing child pornography. In district court, Taylor sought to suppress the evidence, claiming the NIT warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights. He argued the warrant authorized a search of property located in the Eastern District of Virginia, not a nationwide search of property. The government argued that the warrant was a tracking device warrant allowing them to track the movements of a person, rather than authorizing just a search of a specific district. The government’s argument was rejected as neither the warrant application nor any attached documents to the application mentioned the term “tracking device.”

Despite finding that Taylor’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated, the district court did not suppress the evidence because the court determined that the search fell within the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. Taylor appealed.

The majority affirmed the district court’s ruling, concluding that although the NIT search warrant violated Taylor’s Fourth Amendment rights, it did not see any value in suppressing the evidence.

Judge Gerald Tjoflat strongly disagreed, explaining that the warrant process is premised on the good faith of law enforcement. If law enforcement officials are permitted to deliberately or recklessly include false representations in the warrant application and mislead the magistrate, then that would neuter the Fourth Amendment. He went on to say, “I recognize that my decision would have an unfortunate result” but “such a result is the price to pay to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of the public.”