High court to de­cide ev­i­dence seizure case

The jus­tices will con­sider eas­ing the rule on us­ing il­le­gally ob­tained ma­te­rial.

Los Angeles Times - - The Nation - David G. Sav­age re­port­ing from washington david.sav­age@latimes.com

The Supreme Court agreed Tues­day to con­sider giv­ing the po­lice more lee­way to seize crim­i­nal ev­i­dence, even when they mis­tak­enly break into the wrong home while pur­su­ing a sus­pect.

Ken­tucky vs. King was one of 14 new cases the jus­tices said they would de­cide in their new term. They met Mon­day for the first time since June and pored over nearly 2,000 ap­peal pe­ti­tions that had piled up over the sum­mer.

In the Ken­tucky case, the jus­tices will de­cide whether to fur­ther re­lax the so-called ex­clu­sion­ary rule, which for­bids the use of il­le­gally seized ev­i­dence. It be­gan when po­lice in Lex­ing­ton fol­lowed a sus­pected drug dealer as he en­tered an apart­ment build­ing.

They walked down a hall­way and, de­tect­ing the smell of mar­i­juana, broke into an apart­ment. They did not have a search war­rant. In­side, they found Hol­lis King and two oth­ers with mar­i­juana and crack co­caine.

King was ar­rested and pleaded guilty, but he also con­tended that the search of his apart­ment was il­le­gal — be­cause the orig­i­nal sus­pect ap­par­ently had gone into an apart­ment across the hall.

In Jan­uary, the Ken­tucky Supreme Court threw out ev­i­dence against King and said po­lice had not been fac­ing an emer­gency that jus­ti­fied break­ing into the apart­ment.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 de­ci­sion, said il­le­gally seized ev­i­dence should not be thrown out if po­lice made an hon­est mis­take.

On Tues­day, the jus­tices said they would hear the ap­peal from Ken­tucky pros­e­cu­tors, who con­tended that the search and seizure were jus­ti­fied be­cause po­lice thought they were en­ter­ing the right apart­ment.

In a sec­ond crim­i­nal case, the jus­tices will re­con­sider whether lab tech­ni­cians must tes­tify rou­tinely at tri­als.

Last year, the court, in an­other 5-4 rul­ing, said lab tech­ni­cians were wit­nesses for the pros­e­cu­tion and gen­er­ally must be avail­able to tes­tify.

But in a drunk driv­ing case from New Mex­ico, the state courts said a lab worker who sim­ply recorded the read­ings from a blood al­co­hol test­ing ma­chine did not need to tes­tify.

The jus­tices, how­ever, voted to hear the mo­torist’s ap­peal in Bull­com­ing vs. New Mex­ico.

The court also agreed to hear two sig­nif­i­cant ap­peals from busi­nesses.

In As­tra USA vs. Santa Clara County, the court will de­cide whether lo­cal gov­ern­ments can sue drug mak­ers for over­charg­ing pub­lic hos­pi­tals for pre­scrip­tion drugs. Two years ago, the fed­eral ap­peals court in San Fran­cisco up­held such a suit, but lawyers for the drug maker con­tended that the suits should be dis­missed.

In Gen­eral Dy­nam­ics Corp. and Boe­ing vs. U.S., the de­fense contractors say they should not be forced to re­pay $3 bil­lion for de­fault­ing on a con­tract to build a stealth fighter for the Navy.

The ap­peal raises the is­sue of whether the govern­ment must re­veal “state se­crets” in lit­i­ga­tion but in a novel way. The contractors say that be­cause the Pen­tagon with­held se­crets of the stealth technology, they had been un­able to ful­fill the con­tract.

The court also agreed to de­cide whether the es­tate of Anna Ni­cole Smith de­served part of the for­tune of her late hus­band, Texas bil­lion­aire J. Howard Mar­shall II, who died in 1995.

Since the case be­gan, Smith and Mar­shall’s son Pierce have died, but the lit­i­ga­tion con­tin­ues. The new case is Stern vs. Mar­shall.

And for those who want to lis­ten to a Supreme Court ar­gu­ment, the court an­nounced it would post on its web­site, www.supre­mecourt.gov, at the end of each week the au­dio record­ings for cases heard that week.

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