Suppose the Police obtain a warrant to search Alice's house for smuggled diamonds (something really tiny). When they arrive, they knock on Bob's door instead of Alice's. It's a common mistake to make, and each new mailman has made it.

Case 1:

Bob is not home. The police search the place and find tons of (illegal item). When Bob returns, they arrest him.

Case 2:

Bob is home. He looks at the warrant, and informs the officers they are at the wrong house. The officers do not believe Bob, and think he's just trying to get them to go away. They search over his objections, find the (illegal thing) and arrest him.

This question shows that criminals are always at risk of being busted on unrelated but lawful law enforcement activities, but it seems to me that Bob's 4th amendment right was violated since the officers did not have a warrant to search his house.

Is the evidence the officers found at Bob's house admissible?

Jurisdiction is USA.

1 Answer 1


The Evidence Would be Admissible.

Under the so-called "good faith exception" to the exclusionary rule the evidence would probably be admitted over Bob's objections in both cases mentioned in the question. Recent US court decisions have limited the exclusionary rule when police officers reasonably but mistakenly believe that a valid warrant exists, and find evidence acting under such an apparent warrant. However, if there is good evidence of intentional falsification by the police, the exception will probably not apply.

As to the second case, where Bob is home and protests that an error is being made, police are not required to, and often do not, accept much that suspects or subjects of warrants say in their own defense. If anyone could simply claim there was an error and delay a warrant, perhaps giving time to dispose of evidence, many problems would result.

However, the "good faith" exception only applies where the police reasonably and honestly believe that the warrant is valid, or that probable cause exists. If Bob says something such as:

This warrant is for 1020 Anne street, where Alice Crook lives. But I live at 1050 Albert street. See the house number is 1050 right here. There must be a mistake.

then a reasonable officer would probably double check the warrant, and if the officer unreasonably fails to do so, the search might later be suppressed. But this is going to be a very fact-sensitive inquiry, and none of the cases that I know of on the "good faith exception" rule are exactly on point for this situation. I cannot be sure how a court might rule in such a case.

Leon and Evans Cases

In United States v. Leon 468 U. S. 897, the US Supreme Court created a "good faith exception" to the exclusionary rule. In that case the Court held that when officers make an objectively reasonable, good faith decision to rely on a warrant later held to be invalid, the exclusionary rule does not apply, and evidence found during a search under such a warrant, or in the course of an arrest under such a warren, is admissible. The basic logic is that when the invalid warrant was the result of an honest mistake, suppressing the evidence would have no deterrent effect on future similar mistakes, as no one intended to make them in any case.

In Arizona v. Evans 514 U. S. 1 (1995), this rule was extended to officer who rely in good faith on information mistakenly provided by Court employees. The underlying logic is much the same.

Herring v. United States

In Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135 (2009) this exception was further extended to officers who acted in good faith on the mistaken information of other officers. Evidence found in a search incident to an arrest, although there was no valid arrest warrant or other probable cause, was not suppressed. In this case a warrant had been issued but later recalled. however this recall was somehow not properly entered into the database of warrants maintained by a sheriff's office. When a nearby jurisdiction called to ask if there was an outstanding warrant on Herring, they were told that there was one. Herring was arrested, and drugs and an unlawful firearm found. Minutes later the officers were told that the arrest warrant was not valid. Herring was convicted based on the evidence from the search, and the US Supreme court upheld the conviction.

The court wrote in Herring:

When a probable-cause determination was based on reasonable but mistaken assumptions, the person subjected to a search or seizure has not necessarily been the victim of a constitutional violation. The very phrase “probable cause” confirms that the Fourth Amendment does not demand all possible precision. And whether the error can be traced to a mistake by a state actor or some other source may bear on the analysis. For purposes of deciding this case, however, we accept the parties’ assumption that there was a Fourth Amendment violation. The issue is whether the exclusionary rule should be applied.

The fact that a Fourth Amendment violation occurred—i.e., that a search or arrest was unreasonable—does not necessarily mean that the exclusionary rule applies. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U. S. 213, 223 (1983). Indeed, exclusion “has always been our last resort, not our first impulse,” Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U. S. 586, 591 (2006), and our precedents establish important principles that constrain application of the exclusionary rule.


the exclusionary rule is not an individual right and applies only where it “ ‘result[s] in appreciable deterrence.’


When police act under a warrant that is invalid for lack of probable cause, the exclusionary rule does not apply if the police acted “in objectively reasonable reliance” on the subsequently invalidated search warrant. 468 U. S., at 922 (Leon). We (perhaps confusingly) called this objectively reasonable reliance “good faith.” In a companion case, Massachusetts v. Sheppard, 468 U. S. 981 (1984), we held that the exclusionary rule did not apply when a warrant was invalid because a judge forgot to make “clerical corrections” to it.


in Evans, 514 U. S. 1, we applied this good-faith rule to police who reasonably relied on mistaken information in a court’s database that an arrest warrant was outstanding. We held that a mistake made by a judicial employee could not give rise to exclusion for three reasons: The exclusionary rule was crafted to curb police rather than judicial misconduct; court employees were unlikely to try to subvert the Fourth Amendment; and “most important, there [was] no basis for believing that application of the exclusionary rule in [those] circumstances” would have any significant effect in deterring the errors


the abuses that gave rise to the exclusionary rule featured intentional conduct that was patently unconstitutional ...


To trigger the exclusionary rule, police conduct must be sufficiently deliberate that exclusion can meaningfully deter it, and sufficiently culpable that such deterrence is worth the price paid by the justice system.


In Franks v. Delaware, 438 U. S. 154 (1978), ... we held that police negligence in obtaining a warrant did not even rise to the level of a Fourth Amendment violation, let alone meet the more stringent test for triggering the exclusionary rule.


We do not suggest that all recordkeeping errors by the police are immune from the exclusionary rule. In this case, however, the conduct at issue was not so objectively culpable as to require exclusion. In Leon we held that “the marginal or nonexistent benefits produced by suppressing evidence obtained in objectively reasonable reliance on a subsequently invalidated search warrant cannot justify the substantial costs of exclusion.” 468 U. S., at 922. The same is true when evidence is obtained in objectively reasonable reliance on a subsequently recalled warrant.

If the police have been shown to be reckless in maintaining a warrant system, or to have knowingly made false entries to lay the groundwork for future false arrests, exclusion would certainly be justified under our cases should such misconduct cause a Fourth Amendment violation.

See the Wikipedia article on Herring and this Leagal Information Institute article on the case

  • I can't quite see how this applies to the second case, where Bob tells them they are at the wrong place, and the police refuses to believe this. You would think that the police would have to check this first.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 8, 2019 at 20:51
  • @gnasher729 it is hard to be sure. See my additions to the answer about this case. Aug 8, 2019 at 22:15
  • There was a recent case in my state where the police got the address wrong and Bob shot the "intruders" in self defense with a licensed fire arm. The state decided it would not prosecute Bob for the offense. I think in that case, the warrent was issued for Alice's address, but the cops still showed up at Bob's place, which was objectively out of scope of the warrant. Keep in mind, this isn't case law as Bob was never tried for the assault (the officer shot was wounded, but survived.).
    – hszmv
    Aug 9, 2019 at 14:54
  • @hszmv that is interesting, but is a different, although not unrelated issue. What is at issue here is whether the exclusionary rule will be applied, a 4th amendment issue. In the case where an "intruder" proves to be an officer, the question is whether self defense or defense of property applies, and I suspect a key question is whether Bob knew or should have known that the people entering were police. And of course public opinion can be important in decisions about when to prosecute. Aug 9, 2019 at 17:49
  • @DavidSiegel: If the owner of 744 Evergreen Terrace were to put up house numbers that said "742", and were subsequently searched by police with a warrant for 742 Evergreen Terrace, admitting the results of such a search may be reasonable. If the property were clearly labeled 744, however, the failure of police to notice that would seem to constitute prima facie evidence that the police had failed to exercise even slight care in ensuring that they had the right address. I fail to see any benefit to saying that officers involved in a search should not be held jointly and severally...
    – supercat
    Dec 18, 2023 at 20:11

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