In Davis v. United States, 131 S. Ct. 2419 (2011), the Supreme Court considered what remedies are available when appellate courts hand down Fourth Amendment rulings expanding Fourth Amendment rights beyond the state of prior caselaw. When that happens, the officer may have taken steps that were thought to be lawful at the time but later held to be unlawful. According to Davis, the exclusionary rule does not apply to Fourth Amendment violations when the officer had acted “in objectively reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent” that had allowed the officer’s acts.
Davis has become a very important case: It has been cited several hundred times among lower courts in just two years. In this post, I want to bring readers up to date on what the lower courts are doing with Davis. Its test is surprisingly murky in application, and lower courts have struggled to apply various parts of it and disagreed on its scope. I’ll start with an overview of Davis and the uncertainties of its rule, and I’ll then turn to the lower court cases. Given the large body of caselaw, I’ll stick to the major precedents as best I can identify them; readers are invited to add in additional caselaw in the comment thread.
I. Davis v. United States
In Davis, an officer had searched a car incident to arrest pursuant to the near-universal understanding that such searches were permitted by Belton v. New York. By the time the case was on direct appeal, the Supreme Court effectively overturned Belton in Arizona v. Gant. Under the near-universal understanding of Belton, the search had been lawful; under Gant, the search was unlawful. The question in Davis was what to do with the intervening change in law. Under the [...]