MASSACHUSETTS v. SHEPPARD

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
82-963
Petitioner 
Massachusetts
Respondent 
Osborne Sheppard
Advocates
(on behalf of the Petitioner)
(on behalf of the Respondent)
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Facts of the Case 

Boston police sought to obtain a warrant to search the home of Osborne Sheppard, a suspected murderer. Detective Peter O'Malley prepared an affidavit listing the pieces of evidence he hoped to find at Sheppard's home. Since the local court was closed for the weekend and O'Malley could not find a new warrant form, he filled out a previously used form instead. He took this form and the affidavit to the residence of the presiding judge and told him the form required revision and approval. The judge returned the form with his approval, but he did not list the pieces of evidence from the affidavit on the warrant. Police found items from the affidavit in Sheppard's home and charged him with first-degree murder. During Sheppard's trial, the judge stated that the warrant did not conform to Fourth Amendment standards because it did not describe the items to be seized. Because the police acted in good faith upon what they believed was a valid warrant, the judge admitted the items as evidence and Sheppard was convicted. On appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Sheppard successfully argued that the trial judge should have suppressed the evidence since no "good-faith exception" existed for admitting evidence obtained on a faulty warrant.

Question 

If police officers mistakenly believe they have obtained a valid warrant, can a trial court use the evidence they obtained?

Conclusion 
Decision: 7 votes for Massachusetts, 2 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Exclusionary Rule (admissibility of evidence allegedly in violation of the Fourth Amendment)

Yes. Justice Byron White delivered the opinion for a 7-2 court. The Court maintained that trial courts can use evidence seized by officers who have an "objectively reasonable basis" for mistakenly believing they have obtained valid warrants. Upon a factual inquiry, the Court found that "the officers in this case took every step that could reasonably be expected of them" to secure a valid warrant. Lawmakers did not enact rules for excluding evidence to invalidate evidence because of clerical errors by judges but to deter police from conducting unlawful searches.

Cite this Page
MASSACHUSETTS v. SHEPPARD. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 10 September 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1983/1983_82_963>.
MASSACHUSETTS v. SHEPPARD, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1983/1983_82_963 (last visited September 10, 2014).
"MASSACHUSETTS v. SHEPPARD," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed September 10, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1983/1983_82_963.