"I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Hudson v Michigan

For any lawyers or interested non-lawyers, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Hudson v Michigan (pdf.) last week. It concerns the Fourth Amendment's knock-and-announce rule, and the exclusionary rule for unconstitutionally obtained evidence.

The police entered Hudson's house, but failed to observe the knock-and-announce requirement. There they found guns and drugs, which became evidence used to convict Hudson of several offences. Hudson argued that the evidence was obtained in violation of his constitutional rights and therefore ought to have been supressed i.e. excluded from his trial. The Supreme Court decided that supression was not necessary in this case. The judgment of the Court was given by Scalia J., with whom Roberts CJ., Thomas, Alito and Kennedy J. concurred. Scalia J. relied on various instances over the last fewe decades when the Court has declined to order that evidence be supressed in every case where constitutional rights may have been infringed, speaking of the "substantial social costs" of such an absolute rule. (Of course, we in Ireland have a rather absolute rule, as is clear from the judgment of our own Supreme Court in People (D.P.P.) V Kenny.) In a brief concurring judgment, Kennedy J. emphasised that any breach of the Fourth Amendment was a serious matter, but that on the facts of this case supression was not required.

The case is interesting for a number of reasons. It represents a break from the pattern of unanimous rulings that Chief Justice Roberts has established since taking up his position last autumn. With cases on Guantanamo and other matters of high controversy still to come in this term, it will not be the last such break. Also, the make-up of the majority and minority in a constitutional case was unchanged from Garcetti v Ceballos (as to which see below). It seems that Justice Kennedy may have taken over Sandra Day O'Connor's mantle as the swing vote on the Court. The influence of Bush's two appointments is starting to take shape, but there is plenty more still to come in that regard. (They are lifetime appointments after all. And that is even before one considers which party will pick the replacement for Justice Stevens, who is 86 years old if I'm not mistaken.) Thirdly, there is a rather stinging dissent in Hudson from Breyer J., who all but accuses the majority of being indifferent to precedent and to the purposes of the Fourth Amendment.

The case is worth reading for anyone interested in the debate around whether unconstitutionally obtained evidence should ever be admissible in the Irish courts.


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