Fourth Amendment/Inevitable Discovery – Under the inevitable discovery doctrine, the Government must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that evidence unlawfully obtained by law enforcement ultimately would have been obtained by lawful means if the constitutional violation had not taken place
The Eleventh Circuit, sitting en banc, vacated the panel opinion in United States v. Watkins, where the panel excused law enforcement’s unlawful use of a tracking monitor in the defendant’s home based on holding there was a “reasonable probability” that law enforcement would have obtained a warrant anyway.
At issue on rehearing en banc was whether the Court had applied the correct standard under the “inevitable discovery doctrine,” which precludes suppression of evidence obtained during unlawful searches if the Government can show it would have obtained that evidence through lawful means. The Court had applied the “reasonably probability” standard, meaning suppression was precluded if there was a “reasonably probability” law enforcement would have obtained the evidence lawfully. However, other courts, including some panels in the Eleventh Circuit, had confused the issue by employing the “preponderance of the evidence” standard in other cases.
Citing Supreme Court precedent, the Eleventh Circuit now squarely decided that the proper standard is the preponderance of the evidence standard, requiring the Government to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that evidence unlawfully obtained by law enforcement ultimately would have been obtained by lawful means if the constitutional violation had not taken place.
On appeal from the Southern District of Florida
En banc opinion by Martin and E. Carnes
Click here to read the opinion.