Our Fourth Amendment Rights and Theft by Police

If police officers steal items during a search, does that theft render the search invalid under the Fourth Amendment? Not according to the Tenth Circuit.

In United States v. Webster, police officers stole an iPhone, a PlayStation gaming system, 100 dollars in cash, and a Flip Camcorder during a warrant search for drugs. The victim, (the subject of the search warrant), later moved to suppress other drug evidence found during the search pursuant to the Fourth Amendment.

In a published opinion, the Tenth Circuit denied the motion because the theft was independent from the act of gathering evidence to support the conviction. The court held that it was important to distinguish between the officers who committed the theft, who were from a different task force, from the officers who executed the search warrant. You can access the opinion here.

The lesson of Webster emphasizes the general rule that blanket suppression is disfavored and only a proper remedy in the most egregious cases. The central focus should be on whether the criminal conduct of the police had a material impact on the evidence gathering process. If not, then courts can disregard the misconduct.

If you have questions about the Fourth Amendment generally, or the exclusionary rule in particular, contact the attorneys at Bryan & Terrill Law, 918-935-2777.