On the basis of evidence gathered in the investigation of a
homicide in the Roxbury section of Boston, a police detective
drafted an affidavit to support an application for an arrest
warrant and a search warrant authorizing the search of respondent's
residence. The affidavit stated that the police wished to search
for certain described items, including clothing of the victim and a
blunt instrument that might have been used on the victim. The
affidavit was reviewed and approved by the District Attorney.
Because it was Sunday, the local court was closed, and the police
had a difficult time finding a warrant application form. The
detective finally found a warrant form previously used in another
district to search for controlled substances. After making some
changes in the form, the detective presented it and the affidavit
to a judge at his residence, informing him that the warrant form
might need to be further changed. Concluding that the affidavit
established probable cause to search respondent's residence and
telling the detective that the necessary changes in the warrant
form would be made, the judge made some changes, but did not change
the substantive portion, which continued to authorize a search for
controlled substances, nor did he alter the form so as to
incorporate the affidavit. The judge then signed the warrant and
returned it and the affidavit to the detective, informing him that
the warrant was sufficient authority in form and content to carry
out the requested search. The ensuing search of respondent's
residence by the detective and other police officers was limited to
the items listed in the affidavit, and several incriminating pieces
of evidence were discovered. Thereafter, respondent was charged
with first-degree murder. At a pretrial suppression hearing, the
trial judge ruled that notwithstanding the warrant was defective
under the Fourth Amendment in that it did not particularly describe
the items to be seized, the incriminating evidence could be
admitted because the police had acted in good faith in executing
what they reasonably thought was a valid warrant. At the subsequent
trial, respondent was convicted. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial
Court held that the evidence should have been suppressed.
Federal law does not require the exclusion of the
disputed evidence. Pp. 468 U. S.
(a) The exclusionary rule should not be applied when the officer
conducting the search acted in objectively reasonable reliance on a
Page 468 U. S. 982
issued by a detached and neutral magistrate that subsequently is
determined to be invalid. United States v. Leon, ante
468 U. S. 897
468 U. S.
(b) Here, there was an objectively reasonable basis for the
officers' mistaken belief that the warrant authorized the search
they conducted. The officers took every step that could reasonably
be expected of them. At the point where the judge returned the
affidavit and warrant to the detective, a reasonable police officer
would have concluded, as the detective did, that the warrant
authorized a search for the materials outlined in the affidavit.
Pp. 468 U. S.
(c) A police officer is not required to disbelieve a judge who
has just advised him that the warrant he possesses authorizes him
to conduct the search he has requested. Pp. 989-990.
(d) An error of constitutional dimensions may have been
committed with respect to the issuance of the warrant in this case,
but it was the judge, not the police officer, who made the critical
mistake. Suppressing evidence because the judge failed to make all
the necessary clerical corrections despite his assurance that such
changes would be made will not serve the deterrent function that
the exclusionary rule was designed to achieve. Pp. 468 U. S.
387 Mass. 488, 441
, reversed and remanded.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER,
C.J., and BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined.
STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment,
p. 468 U. S. 960
BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J.,
p. 468 U. S.
Page 468 U. S. 983
JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case involves the application of the rules articulated
today in United States v. Leon, ante
p. 468 U. S. 897
a situation in
Page 468 U. S. 984
which police officers seize items pursuant to a warrant
subsequently invalidated because of a technical error on the part
of the issuing judge.
The badly burned body of Sandra Boulware was discovered in a
vacant lot in the Roxbury section of Boston at approximately 5
a.m., Saturday, May 5, 1979. An autopsy revealed that Boulware had
died of multiple compound skull fractures caused by blows to the
head. After a brief investigation, the police decided to question
one of the victim's boyfriends, Osborne Sheppard. Sheppard told the
police that he had last seen the victim on Tuesday night, and that
he had been at a local gaming house (where card games were played)
from 9 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Saturday. He identified several
people who would be willing to substantiate the latter claim.
By interviewing the people Sheppard had said were at the gaming
house on Friday night, the police learned that, although Sheppard
was at the gaming house that night, he had borrowed an automobile
at about 3 o'clock Saturday morning in order to give two men a ride
home. Even though the trip normally took only 15 minutes, Sheppard
did not return with the car until nearly 5 a.m.
On Sunday morning, police officers visited the owner of the car
Sheppard had borrowed. He consented to an inspection of the
vehicle. Bloodstains and pieces of hair were found on the rear
bumper and within the trunk compartment. In addition, the officers
noticed strands of wire in the trunk similar to wire strands found
on and near the body of the victim. The owner of the car told the
officers that, when he last used the car on Friday night, shortly
before Sheppard borrowed it, he had placed articles in the trunk
and had not noticed any stains on the bumper or in the trunk.
On the basis of the evidence gathered thus far in the
investigation, Detective Peter O'Malley drafted an affidavit
designed to support an application for an arrest warrant and a
search warrant authorizing a search of Sheppard's residence.
Page 468 U. S. 985
The affidavit set forth the results of the investigation and
stated that the police wished to search for
"[a] fifth bottle of amaretto liquor, 2 nickel bags of
marijuana, a woman's jacket that has been described as black-grey
(charcoal) possessions of Sandra D. Boulware, similar type wire and
rope that match those on the body of Sandra D. Boulware, or in the
above [T]hunderbird. Blunt instrument that might have been used on
the victim. Men's or women's clothing that may have blood,
gasoline, burns on them. Items that may have fingerprints of the
victim. [Footnote 1
Detective O'Malley showed the affidavit to the District
Attorney, the District Attorney's first assistant, and a sergeant,
who all concluded that it set forth probable cause for the search
and the arrest. 387 Mass. 488, 492, 441
, 727 (1982).
Because it was Sunday, the local court was closed, and the
police had a difficult time finding a warrant application form.
Detective O'Malley finally found a warrant form previously in use
in the Dorchester District. The form was entitled "Search Warrant
-- Controlled Substance G.L. c. 276 §§ 1 through 3A." Realizing
that some changes had to be made before the form could be used to
authorize the search requested in the affidavit, Detective O'Malley
deleted the subtitle "controlled substance" with a typewriter. He
also substituted "Roxbury" for the printed "Dorchester" and typed
Sheppard's name and address into blank spaces provided for that
information. However, the reference to "controlled substance" was
not deleted in the portion of the form that constituted the warrant
application and that, when signed, would constitute the warrant
Page 468 U. S. 986
Detective O'Malley then took the affidavit and the warrant form
to the residence of a judge who had consented to consider the
warrant application. The judge examined the affidavit and stated
that he would authorize the search as requested. Detective O'Malley
offered the warrant form and stated that he knew the form as
presented dealt with controlled substances. He showed the judge
where he had crossed out the subtitles. After unsuccessfully
searching for a more suitable form, the judge informed O'Malley
that he would make the necessary changes so as to provide a proper
search warrant. The judge then took the form, made some changes on
it, and dated and signed the warrant. However, he did not change
the substantive portion of the warrant, which continued to
authorize a search for controlled substances; [Footnote 2
] nor did he alter the form so as to
incorporate the affidavit. The judge returned the affidavit and the
warrant to O'Malley, informing him that the warrant was sufficient
authority in form and content to carry out the search as requested.
] O'Malley took the
two documents and, accompanied by other officers, proceeded to
Page 468 U. S. 987
The scope of the ensuing search was limited to the items listed
in the affidavit, and several incriminating pieces of evidence were
discovered. [Footnote 4
Sheppard was then charged with first-degree murder.
At a pretrial suppression hearing, the trial judge concluded
that the warrant failed to conform to the commands of the Fourth
Amendment because it did not particularly describe the items to be
seized. The judge ruled, however, that the evidence could be
admitted notwithstanding the defect in the warrant, because the
police had acted in good faith in executing what they reasonably
thought was a valid warrant. App. 35a. At the subsequent trial,
Sheppard was convicted.
On appeal, Sheppard argued that the evidence obtained pursuant
to the defective warrant should have been suppressed. The Supreme
Judicial Court of Massachusetts agreed. A plurality of the justices
concluded that, although
"the police conducted the search in a good faith belief,
reasonably held, that the search was lawful and authorized by the
warrant issued by the judge,"
387 Mass., at 503, 441 N.E.2d at 733, the evidence had to be
excluded because this Court had not recognized a good faith
exception to the exclusionary rule. Two justices combined in a
separate concurrence to stress their rejection of the good faith
exception, and one justice dissented, contending that, since
exclusion of the evidence in this case would not serve to deter any
police misconduct, the evidence should be admitted. We granted
certiorari and set the case for argument in conjunction with
United States v. Leon, ante,
p. 468 U. S. 897
U.S. 1205 (1983).
Having already decided that the exclusionary rule should not be
applied when the officer conducting the search acted in
Page 468 U. S. 988
objectively reasonable reliance on a warrant issued by a
detached and neutral magistrate that subsequently is determined to
be invalid, ante
at 468 U. S.
-923, the sole issue before us in this case is
whether the officers reasonably believed that the search they
conducted was authorized by a valid warrant. [Footnote 5
] There is no dispute that the officers
believed that the warrant authorized the search that they
conducted. Thus, the only question is whether there was an
objectively reasonable basis for the officers' mistaken belief.
Both the trial court, App. 35a, and a majority of the Supreme
Judicial Court, 387 Mass., at 503, 441 N.E.2d at 733; id.
at 524-525, 441 N.E.2d at 745 (Lynch, J., dissenting), concluded
that there was. We agree.
Page 468 U. S. 989
The officers in this case took every step that could reasonably
be expected of them. Detective O'Malley prepared an affidavit which
was reviewed and approved by the District Attorney. He presented
that affidavit to a neutral judge. The judge concluded that the
affidavit established probable cause to search Sheppard's
residence, App. 26a, and informed O'Malley that he would authorize
the search as requested. O'Malley then produced the warrant form
and informed the judge that it might need to be changed. He was
told by the judge that the necessary changes would be made. He then
observed the judge make some changes and received the warrant and
the affidavit. At this point, a reasonable police officer would
have concluded, as O'Malley did, that the warrant authorized a
search for the materials outlined in the affidavit.
Sheppard contends that, since O'Malley knew the warrant form was
defective, he should have examined it to make sure that the
necessary changes had been made. However, that argument is based on
the premise that O'Malley had a duty to disregard the judge's
assurances that the requested search would be authorized and the
necessary changes would be made. Whatever an officer may be
required to do when he executes a warrant without knowing
beforehand what items are to be seized, [Footnote 6
] we refuse to rule that an officer is
Page 468 U. S. 990
to disbelieve a judge who has just advised him, by word and by
action, that the warrant he possesses authorizes him to conduct the
search he has requested. In Massachusetts, as in most
jurisdictions, the determinations of a judge acting within his
jurisdiction, even if erroneous, are valid and binding until they
are set aside under some recognized procedure. Streeter v. City
336 Mass. 469, 472, 146
(1957); Moll v. Township of Wakefield,
274 Mass. 505, 507,
175 N.E. 81, 82 (1931). If an officer is required to accept at face
value the judge's conclusion that a warrant form is invalid, there
is little reason why he should be expected to disregard assurances
that everything is all right, especially when he has alerted the
judge to the potential problems.
In sum, the police conduct in this case clearly was objectively
reasonable and largely error-free. An error of constitutional
dimensions may have been committed with respect to the issuance of
the warrant, but it was the judge, not the police officers, who
made the critical mistake. "[T]he exclusionary rule was adopted to
deter unlawful searches by police, not to punish the errors of
magistrates and judges." Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.
, 462 U. S. 263
(1983) (WHITE, J., concurring in judgment). [Footnote 7
] Suppressing evidence because the
Page 468 U. S. 991
judge failed to make all the necessary clerical corrections
despite his assurances that such changes would be made will not
serve the deterrent function that the exclusionary rule was
designed to achieve. Accordingly, federal law does not require the
exclusion of the disputed evidence in this case. The judgment of
the Supreme Judicial Court is therefore reversed, and the case is
remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this
It is so ordered.
[For opinion of JUSTICE STEVENS concurring in the judgment,
p. 468 U. S.
[For dissenting opinion of JUSTICE BRENNAN, see ante
468 U. S.
The liquor and marihuana were included in the request because
Sheppard had told the officers that, when he was last with the
victim, the two had purchased two bags of marihuana and a fifth of
amaretto before going to his residence.
The warrant directed the officers to
"search for any controlled substance, article, implement or
other paraphernalia used in, for, or in connection with the
unlawful possession or use of any controlled substance, and to
seize and securely keep the same until final action. . . ."
Sheppard contends that there is no evidence in the record that
the judge spoke to O'Malley after he made the changes. Brief for
Respondent 11, n. 4. However, the trial judge expressly found that
"informed Detective O'Malley that the warrant as delivered over
was sufficient authority in form and content to carry out the
search as requested,"
App. 27a, and a plurality of the Supreme Judicial Court noted
that finding without any apparent disapproval. 387 Mass. 488, 497,
, 730 (1982). Since it would have been reasonable for
O'Malley to infer that the warrant was valid when the judge made
some changes after assuring him that the form would be corrected,
an express assurance that the warrant was adequate would add little
to the reasonableness of O'Malley's belief that the necessary
changes had been made. Therefore, nothing would be served by
combing the record to determine whether there is sufficient
evidence to support the trial court's finding that the judge spoke
to O'Malley after signing the warrant.
The police found a pair of bloodstained boots, bloodstains on
the concrete floor, a woman's earring with bloodstains on it, a
bloodstained envelope, a pair of men's jockey shorts and women's
leotards with blood on them, three types of wire, and a woman's
hairpiece, subsequently identified as the victim's.
Both the trial court, App. 32a, and a majority of the Supreme
Judicial Court, 387 Mass., at 500-501, 441 N.E.2d at 731-732;
at 510, 441 N.E.2d at 737 (Liacos, J., joined by
Abrams, J., concurring), concluded that the warrant was
constitutionally defective because the description in the warrant
was completely inaccurate and the warrant did not incorporate the
description contained in the affidavit. Petitioner does not dispute
Petitioner does argue, however, that even though the warrant was
invalid, the search was constitutional because it was reasonable
within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Brief for Petitioner
28-32. The uniformly applied rule is that a search conducted
pursuant to a warrant that fails to conform to the particularity
requirement of the Fourth Amendment is unconstitutional.
Stanford v. Texas, 379 U. S. 476
(1965); United States v. Cardwell,
680 F.2d 75, 77-78 (CA9
1982); United States v. Crozier,
674 F.2d 1293, 1299 (CA9
1982); United States v. Klein,
565 F.2d 183, 185 (CA1
1977); United States v. Gardner,
537 F.2d 861, 862 (CA6
1976); United States v. Marti,
421 F.2d 1263, 1268-1269
(CA2 1970). That rule is in keeping with the well-established
"except in certain carefully defined classes of cases, a search
of private property without proper consent is 'unreasonable' unless
it has been authorized by a valid search warrant."
Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.
, 387 U. S.
-529 (1967). See Steagald v. United States,
451 U. S. 204
451 U. S.
-212 (1981); Jones v. United States,
357 U. S. 493
357 U. S. 499
(1958). Whether the present case fits into one of those carefully
defined classes is a fact-bound issue of little importance, since
similar situations are unlikely to arise with any regularity.
Normally, when an officer who has not been involved in the
application stage receives a warrant, he will read it in order to
determine the object of the search. In this case, Detective
O'Malley, the officer who directed the search, knew what items were
listed in the affidavit presented to the judge, and he had good
reason to believe that the warrant authorized the seizure of those
items. Whether an officer who is less familiar with the warrant
application or who has unalleviated concerns about the proper scope
of the search would be justified in failing to notice a defect like
the one in the warrant in this case is an issue we need not decide.
We hold only that it was not unreasonable for the police in this
case to rely on the judge's assurances that the warrant authorized
the search they had requested.
This is not an instance in which "it is plainly evident that a
magistrate or judge had no business issuing a warrant."
Illinois v. Gates,
462 U.S. at 462 U. S. 264
(WHITE, J., concurring in judgment). The judge's error was not in
concluding that a warrant should issue, but in failing to make the
necessary changes on the form. Indeed, Sheppard admits that, if the
judge had crossed out the reference to controlled substances,
written "see attached affidavit" on the form, and attached the
affidavit to the warrant, the warrant would have been valid. Tr. of
Oral Arg. 27, 50. See United States v. Johnson,
60, 64-65 (CA3 1982), cert. denied,
459 U.S. 1214 (1983);
In re Property Belonging to Talk of the Town Bookstore,
644 F.2d 1317, 1318-1319 (CA9 1981); United States
541 F.2d 1311, 1315-1316 (CA8 1976); United
States v. Womack,
166 U.S.App.D.C. 35, 49, 509 F.2d 368, 382
(1974); Commonwealth v. Todisco,
363 Mass. 445, 450,
, 864 (1973).