What Is the “Good Faith” Exception to the Fourth Amendment’s Exclusionary Rule?
You probably know that in most cases, the police cannot search your property without your consent or obtaining a warrant. This is required by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. If the police seize any evidence in violation of the Fourth Amendment, a court can forbid the prosecution from using that illegally obtained evidence against you at trial. This is known as the exclusionary rule.
But the exclusionary rule itself has exceptions. One of them is the good faith exception. Essentially, if the police make a “reasonable mistake” in conducting a search, then any evidence they obtain is still admissible, even if the search violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. Typically, this means that if the officers had a warrant that turned out to be defective or improperly issued, but they relied on said warrant to conduct a search, then any evidence gathered is admissible under the good faith exception.
Court Addresses Over-Broad Search Warrants for Cloud Backup Accounts
A recent decision from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. McCall, illustrates the problems that can arise for criminal defendants due to the good faith exception. This particular case involved a police search of a defendant’s iCloud storage account. The case itself centered on an April 2020 poker game at a private residence involving the defendant and four other people. The defendant lost a substantial sum of money at the game. The other players later testified the defendant “made threats to do something about it.” They also observed the defendant using his iPhone to “make calls/texts to unknown persons.”
A short time later, two masked and armed individuals entered the residence. They took all of the money from the poker game and shot two of the players. Three days later, Florida prosecutors charged the defendant with two counts of attempted felony murder and four counts of armed robbery. Essentially, the state believed that the defendant used his iPhone to contact the two armed gunmen to rob the game so the defendant could get his money back.
Police obtained a warrant to search the defendant’s iPhone. This proved ineffective, however, since the phone was locked and required the defendant’s passcode. But the police managed to determine the name of the iCloud account associated with the phone, as well as the date and time of the last backup from the iPhone. Using that information, the police obtained a second warrant for the iCloud account. Apple provided over two months of backup data. While reviewing that data, the police found a photograph taken a month before the robbery of the defendant holding a 9mm pistol.
Because the defendant had a prior felony conviction, federal prosecutors charged him with being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition. The defendant moved to suppress the photograph recovered from the iCloud backup. The trial court denied the motion. The judge actually agreed with the defendant that the iCloud warrant was invalid. But the good faith exception applied, because the police believed they had a valid warrant and the law surrounding police searches of cloud backup accounts was still something of a gray area.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit agreed the good faith exception allowed for admission of the evidence. The appeals court did suggest, however, that in future cases judges should restrict the scope of search warrants of cloud accounts to particular time frames. Indeed, even the government conceded that a warrant allowing police to search all of a suspect’s iCloud data “without any meaningful limitation” was overbroad and violated the Fourth Amendment.
Contact the Joshi Law Firm Today
If you have been charged with a guns or weapons offense, you could face serious prison time upon conviction. That is why you need to work with an experienced Orlando weapon crime attorney who can explore every avenue for asserting your rights in court. Contact the Joshi Law Firm, P.A., today at (407) 661-1009 or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation.