Good Faith Exception in light of GANT

On December 17, the California 3rd District Court of Appeal held in People v. Branner (C059288) that despite the Supreme Court’s decision in Gant, the exclusionary rule did not prevent the use obtained by an officer relying on the recently overturned decision of Belton.  The majority strongly declared that “the guilty should not go free when the constable did precisely what the US Supreme Court told him he could do, but the Court later decides it was the one who blundered.”

Branner was arrested when the officers discovered that he had no complied with the drug offender registration requirements in 2004.   Once arrested, the officers pursuant to Belton searched the passenger compartment of the vehicle and discovered cocaine base and a gun.  Branner pled after motion to suppress was denied, and in April 2009 he appealed only to see the Court of Appeals uphold his conviction. The very next day, Gant was decided by the Supreme Court overturning Belton, and limiting the officer’s ability to search incident to arrest only the areas within the arrestees immediate control and areas within which the areestee might gain possession of a weapon.

The Court of Appeals in CA granted Branner’s petition for rehearing in light of Gant and its retroactive effect.  The majority however again upheld the conviction by holding that while Gant applies retroactively to cases pending or on appeal, the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule was applicable to uphold the search and subsequent conviction.  Court reasoned that the remedial purpose of the exclusionary rule of deterring invasive government searches would not be served by excluding the evidence in a case like Branner’s.  The Court relied on US v. Leon, IL v. Krull, AZ v. Evans and Herring v. US to basically state that despite Gant‘s new holding and overturning of Belton, its application would have little deterrent effect on officers who in good faith had relied upon Belton.

Dissenting judge Ronald Robie relied on a recent 9th Circuit decision which refused to apply the good faith exception to a search authorized by Belton but recently decided unconstitutional by Gant.  He reasoned that it was much more important to focus on the defendant in the case and afford him the same consitutional protections afforded to the defendant in Gant, rather than focus on advancing the deterrent purpose of the exclusionary rule.

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