Seventh Circuit Review


Sometimes, law enforcement officers violate the Fourth Amendment and in the process find and seize evidence they wish to use in a subsequent criminal prosecution. In these circumstances, a question that has long troubled courts, and a question that is becoming more and more difficult to answer, is whether such evidence should be admissible at trial.

In Weeks v. United States and Mapp v. Ohio, the Supreme Court established that evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment was not admissible in federal and state prosecutions. This rule has become known as the exclusionary rule. However, in a line of cases beginning with United States v. Leon, the Court has held, in a variety of different circumstances, that evidence should not be excluded if officers are acting in "good faith" or "objectively reasonably," even when those officers' actions violate the Fourth Amendment.

The most recent case in this line of good faith exception cases is Davis v. United States, where the Court held that "[e]vidence obtained during a search conducted in reasonable reliance on binding precedent is not subject to the exclusionary rule." Because of the potential breadth of its holding, Davis is an incredibly important case in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, and it has already led to a great variety of interpretations in lower courts.

The first question that has led to a variety of different interpretations has been what exactly constitutes binding precedent? The second question has been, if there is binding precedent available, what are the limits of officers' good faith reliance on that precedent? Or, as one federal court has phrased the issue, "[t]he scope of [the] reasonable-reliance-on-precedent test turns on two subsidiary questions: what universe of cases can the police rely on? And how clearly must those cases govern the current case for that reliance to be objectively reasonable?"

This Comment examines the variety of different ways courts have applied Davis' holding in answering these the above two questions. After this analysis, this Comment suggests the best path forward for courts when interpreting and applying Davis. Finally, this Comment discusses the Seventh Circuit's interpretation of Davis in a 2014 case, United States v. Gutierrez, and how the court went astray from this best path.

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