Making Mistakes about the Law: Police Mistakes of Law between Qualified Immunity and Lenity

njdiver

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Making Mistakes about the Law: Police Mistakes of Law between Qualified Immunity and Lenity

The law tolerates police mistakes in evaluating both what conduct violates the Fourth Amendment and whether there is a remedy available for any violation. In Heien v. North Carolina, the Supreme Court ruled 8–1 that the Fourth Amendment permits police officers to make reasonable mistakes in reading statutory proscriptions. What appears to be a relatively straight-forward decision in fact raises questions about both Fourth Amendment claims and the relationship between the substantive claims, the remedial doctrines of the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule and qualified immunity. This article explores the toleration of police error in these three areas and the impact of Heien on both substantive Fourth Amendment claims and the good faith exception. It concludes that although Heien expanded the toleration of police mistakes within substantive Fourth Amendment claims, the decision may paradoxically provide a vehicle for limiting the impact of the Supreme Court’s most recent rulings on the good faith exception.

 

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