North Carolina Court of Appeals Rules That Statutory Exclusionary Rule Does Not Bar Admission of Evidence Seized Pursuant to a Search Warrant Based on Allegedly Vague and Inaccurate Inventory of Seized Items

The Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule generally bars the introduction of evidence seized in violation of its provisions. State constitutions, statutes, and rules also may bar the introduction of evidence even when the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule does not.

The preparation and service of an inventory of items taken during the execution of a search warrant is not likely a Fourth Amendment requirement, and thus the exclusionary rule would be inapplicable to inventory issues. Cf. State v. Dobbins, 306 N.C. 342 (1982) (a search warrant’s return not being sworn was not a constitutional violation).

On the other hand, G.S. 15A-974 bars under some circumstances the introduction of evidence obtained in violation of Chapter 15A of the General Statutes. Evidence is to be excluded if: (1) it is obtained as a result of a “substantial” violation of Chapter 15A, and (2) the officer committing the violation did not act under an objectively reasonable good faith belief that his or her actions were lawful.

Last week, the North Carolina Court of Appeals in State v. Downey (September 6, 2016) considered a defendant’s argument that G.S. 15A-974 should have barred evidence seized pursuant to a search warrant because an officer allegedly did not comply with G.S. 15A-254, which essentially requires the completion an inventory of seized items and leaving a copy in the manner set out in the statute. The Downey ruling is the topic of this post.

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Returns and Inventories for Computer Search Warrants

More and more criminal investigations involve searches of computers and other digital devices. It is sometimes difficult to apply long-established search and seizure law to the practical realities of digital investigations. One example of this phenomenon concerns the preparation of the return and the inventory after the execution of a search warrant,  a topic of … Read more