Barney Fife and the Law in Alabama

barney_fifeA commenter yesterday invoked Barney Fife and it seems a good jumping off point to talk about the “Barney Fife Exception” to the 4th Amendment.  This comes from the United States Supreme Court’s United States v. Herring decision, which all started Dale County, Alabama, a couple of counties over from here.  Back in the mists of time I mentioned the argument of Pam Kaplan, the attorney for Herring before the Court:

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: So, you would impose a burden on the officer on the street serving a warrant? When he gets the call saying there’s a warrant, he’s supposed to say, “Are you sure? Did you double-check with the clerk? When was the last time they updated the computer system? I don’t want to go through all this if the evidence is going to be suppressed.” At every chain in command, you would impose that burden.

MS. KARLAN: No, I would not, Mr. Chief Justice, because if you announce that police error is going to lead to the suppression of evidence, the police will do a better job of maintaining their records.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Yes, but I mean I don’t know what the situation is like —

MS. KARLAN: And then you won’t have this problem.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I don’t know what the situation is like in Dale County. They probably don’t have the latest version of WordPerfect, or whatever it is. They are probably making do with whatever they can under their budget and doing the best they can.

MS. KARLAN: But there’s not a Barney Fife defense to the violation of the Fourth Amendment either.

Again, hat tip to Simple Justice.

The problem is that Herring has now created a Barney Fife exception to the 4th Amendment.  The Supremes ruled:

When police mistakes leading to an unlawful search are the result of isolated negligence attenuated from the search, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements,the exclusionary rule does not apply.

The problem with this ruling is it allows the police to claim, “I screwed up” if they ever get in a search and seizure jam.  Also, the Court is basically saying they will reward negligent (Barneyish) police work when it occurs.

Meanwhile Andy’s calm and deliberative approach to police work suffers because it becomes easier for the cops to do it Barney’s way.

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1 Response to “Barney Fife and the Law in Alabama”


  1. 1 Anonymous Lawyer of Monkeytown May 13, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Glad I could inspire you to a more frequent posting level. While the State may be able to cover police misconduct with ex post facto invocation of the “Barney Fife” rule. Here’s an enterprising defense counsel attempting to turn the tables by using Barney in a slide presentation prepared for a criminal defense. I don’t think it says what jurisdiction, but I bet at least one of the Monkeytown Circuit Judges would have allowed this. The one with the sense of humor that they just halfway named the County Courthouse after, even though it’s said the name is stuck up with velcro to facilitate a Joe Reed-like removal if necessary. Anyway, check out the clever defense ploy.

    http://www.uslaw.com/library/Litigation_Support/Barney_Fife.php?item=247689


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