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Imagine the following scenario:

  1. Alice commits a murder. There are multiple witnesses to the murder, a video of the crime, fingerprints, DNA traces, etc. It's a slam dunk case by any reasonable measure.
  2. Alice manages to evade the police and goes into hiding. The police fail to find her for a decade.
  3. Detective Charlie finds out via hearsay that Bob's cellphone contains Alice's phone number and address.
  4. Instead of obtaining a warrant, Detective Charlie breaks into Bob's apartment, puts a gun to Bob's head and forces him to unlock the phone and reveal Alice's location. This is obviously a huge violation of the 4th amendment as well as many other laws.
  5. The police apprehends Alice and puts her on trial.

Question: could Alice claim that since her location was obtained via an obvious violation of the Constitution, the police must let her go and try to find her again by other means?

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    Was midway through answering. I think the question is whether Alice's 4A rights are violated by obtaining information unlawfully from a third-party. I'm not convinced that that question has a general answer, but on the facts of this question, I don't think that Alice wins (in part, due to the inevitable discovery rule and the fact that her location is not evidence against her).
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 12 at 21:41
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    I voted to reopen because the scenarios are different enough to warrant different answers. Commented Mar 12 at 23:26
  • Incidentally, this may be of interest en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parallel_construction
    – Lag
    Commented Mar 13 at 10:35

1 Answer 1

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The 4th Amendment protects a criminal defendant from having evidence obtained illegally used to prosecute them or provide a basis for arresting them of a crime.

The police had untainted evidence establishing that Alice committed the crime. Indeed, there was a probably a warrant out for Alice's arrest.

Step three, regarding learning about Bob's knowledge, is not a violation of anyone's rights. Hearsay evidence can be used in an investigation even if it isn't evidence admissible at a trial.

The police could have had the DA or a grand jury led by a DA (depending on the local criminal law practice) issue a subpoena to Bob compelling him to disclose Alice's contract information based upon information obtained before any misconduct by police occurred. So, the information obtained, even if it had been evidence of Alice's guilt, would have been admissible evidence under the inevitable discovery doctrine.

The government clearly violated Bob's legal rights, but the thing that violated Bob's legal rights was not compelling him to disclose Alice's contact information. Instead, it was breaking into Bob's apartment and putting a gun to Bob's head. Bob would have a solid 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit against the law enforcement officials who did this for violating his rights. But, the police didn't do this to Alice. They only thing that police did to Alice was to use information about her location that they could have obtained legally from Bob with a subpoena and that Bob had no duty to Alice to keep secret.

So, Alice isn't released.

If, on the other hand, Bob were, for example, Alice's lawyer, Alice's rights probably would have been violated. But, the exclusionary rule doesn't apply since it isn't evidence against her, or put otherwise, there is a basis to keep her arrested based upon other evidence. So, Alice's remedy would be limited to money damages in a 1983 claim against the law enforcement officer, and not to securing her release.

As a practical matter, I doubt that Alice would be entitled to anything more than nominal damages and her attorneys' fees.

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  • It would be interesting to know what Bob would be entitled to, and what consequences there would be for police officer Charlie.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 13 at 19:04
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    @gnasher729 Bob would be entitled to money damages in an amount determined to be appropriate by a jury and his attorney fees, for the intentional violation of his well-established federal constitutional rights, in a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Charlie (assuming that Bob successfully proved his case). Charlie would, in turn, probably be indemnified by his employer under a union negotiated collective bargaining agreement between the police officer's union of which he is probably a member, and the municipality employing him.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 13 at 19:08
  • @ohwilleke If Bob were Alice's lawyer, what do you mean by "But, the exclusionary rule doesn't apply since it isn't evidence against her (it isn't what evidence against her? why?), or put otherwise, there is a basis to keep her arrested based upon other evidence."? Commented Mar 15 at 0:07
  • @ohwilleke Does Bob have to comply to the subpoena by the DA to disclose Alice's contact information? What if he doesn't comply? Commented Mar 15 at 0:08
  • @HelloDarkWorld "Does Bob have to comply to the subpoena by the DA to disclose Alice's contact information?" Yes. "What if he doesn't comply?" He is incarcerated until he complies.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 15 at 15:19

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