Since 1961, the Supreme Court has held that evidence illegally obtained by states is not admissible in court. Beginning with the Rehnquist Court, however, the Curt has been carving out various exceptions to the rule. The most important and problematic of these exceptions is the “good faith” exception, which holds that evidence should be admissible if police officers obtained it in good faith, but the search was illegal because of errors by other actors. The problem is that there’s no clear reason why the incentives of the exclusionary rule should apply only to police officers, as opposed to all agents of the state.
Today, the Court has found yet another exception. The police conducted a search that was ruled to be a violation of the 4th Amendment, but was legal at the time under an 11th Circuit precedent. In an opinion by Alito, the Court held that the good faith exception prevents the rule in this case from being applied retroactively. The problem, as Breyer’s dissent notes, is that (in an increasing Roberts Court tradition) this leaves someone whose rights have been violated without a remedy. Ominously, this was a 7-2 decision, with neither of Obama’s appointments joining Breyer and Ginsburg in dissent.