Stone v. Powell
Annotate this Case
428 U.S. 465 (1976)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465 (1976)
Stone v. Powell
Argued February 24, 1976
Decided July 6, 1976*
428 U.S. 465
Respondent in No. 74-1055, was convicted of murder in state court, in part on the basis of testimony concerning a revolver found on his person when he was arrested for violating a vagrancy ordinance. The trial court rejected respondent's contention that the testimony should have been excluded because the ordinance was unconstitutional and the arrest therefore invalid. The appellate court affirmed, finding it unnecessary to pass upon the legality of the arrest and search because of the court's conclusion that the error, if any, in admitting the challenged testimony was harmless, beyond a reasonable doubt. Respondent then applied for habeas corpus relief in the Federal District Court, which concluded that the arresting officer had probable cause, and that, even if the vagrancy ordinance was unconstitutional, the deterrent purpose of the exclusionary rule did not require that it be applied to bar admission of the fruits of a search incident to an otherwise valid arrest. The court held, alternatively, that any error in admission of the challenged evidence was harmless. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the ordinance was unconstitutional; that respondent's arrest was therefore illegal; and that, although exclusion of the evidence would serve no deterrent purpose with regard to officers who were enforcing statutes in good faith, exclusion would deter legislators from enacting unconstitutional statutes. The court also held that admission of the evidence was not harmless error. In No. 74-1222, respondent was also convicted of murder in a state court, in part on the basis of evidence seized pursuant to a search warrant which respondent on a suppression motion claimed was invalid. The trial court denied respondent's motion to suppress, and was upheld on appeal. Respondent then filed a habeas corpus petition in Federal District Court. The court concluded that the warrant was invalid, and rejected the State's contention that, in any event, probable cause justified the
search. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
Held: Where the State, as in each of these cases, has provided an opportunity for full and fair litigation of a Fourth Amendment claim, a state prisoner may not be granted federal habeas corpus relief on the ground that evidence obtained through an unconstitutional search and seizure was introduced at his trial. In this context, the contribution of the exclusionary rule, if any, to the effectuation of the Fourth Amendment is minimal as compared to the substantial societal costs of applying the rule. Pp. 428 U. S. 474-495.
(a) Until these cases, this Court has had no occasion fully to examine the validity of the assumption made in Kaufman v. United States, 394 U. S. 217, that the effectuation of the Fourth Amendment, as applied to the States through the Fourteenth, requires the granting of habeas corpus relief when a prisoner has been convicted in state court on the basis of evidence obtained in an illegal search or seizure since those Amendments were held in Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U. S. 643, to require exclusion of such evidence at trial and reversal of conviction upon direct review. Pp. 428 U. S. 480-481.
(b) The Mapp majority justified application of the exclusionary rule chiefly upon the belief that exclusion would deter future unlawful police conduct, and though preserving the integrity of the judicial process has been alluded to as also justifying the rule, that concern is minimal where federal habeas corpus relief is sought by a prisoner who has already been given the opportunity for full and fair consideration of his search and seizure claim at trial and on direct review. Pp. 428 U. S. 484-486.
(c) Despite the broad deterrent purpose of the exclusionary rule, it has never been interpreted to proscribe the introduction of illegally seized evidence in all proceedings or against all persons; in various situations, the Court has found the policies behind the rule outweighed by countervailing considerations. Pp. 428 U. S. 486-489.
(d) The ultimate question of guilt or innocence should be the central concern in a criminal proceeding. Application of the exclusionary rule, however, deflects the truthfinding process and often frees the guilty. Though the rule is thought to deter unlawful police activity, in part through nurturing respect for Fourth Amendment values, indiscriminate application of the rule may well generate disrespect for the law and the administration of justice. Pp. 428 U. S. 489-491.
(e) Despite the absence of supportive empirical evidence, the assumption has been that the exclusionary rule deters law enforcement
officers from violating the Fourth Amendment by removing the incentives to disregard it. Though the Court adheres to that view as applied to the trial and direct appeal stages, there is no reason to believe that the effect of applying the rule would be appreciably diminished if search and seizure claims could not be raised in federal habeas corpus review of state convictions. Even if some additional deterrent effect existed from application of the rule in isolated habeas corpus cases, the furtherance of Fourth Amendment goals would be outweighed by the detriment to the criminal justice system. Pp. 428 U. S. 492-494.
No. 74-1055, 507 F.2d 93; No. 74-1222, 513 F.2d 1280, reversed.
POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 428 U. S. 496. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 428 U. S. 502. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 428 U. S. 536.