Friday, February 8, 2013

Court holds reasonably logical assumption insufficient to apply inevitable discovery rule

In a profession where reasonably logical leaps are normative, the prosecution in North Carolina was asked to push such prescriptions.

 In State v. Wells, 2013 N.C. App. Lexis 121, the appellate court held that a mere logical assumption that evidence would have eventually been discovered is insufficient to trigger an exception to the exclusionary rule for evidence derived from an unconstitutional search or seizure.  

The defendant was convicted for soliciting a child by a computer and attempted indecent liberties with a child.

During the trial, the defendant moved the court to suppress certain statements he made to the police upon arrest and to suppress evidence retrieved from his laptop computer.

On the day the defendant was arrested, detectives initially went to the defendant’s house only to find that he was not home. They also executed a search warrant authorizing the seizure of computers from the defendant’s residence.  However, upon arrival, the detectives did not find any evidence.
After contacting the defendant’s place of employment, a firehouse, the defendant opted to turn himself in to avoid been arrested at work. 

In custody, the defendant was read his Miranda rights. Detectives were able to get the defendant to admit that he owned a Dell laptop and that the laptop was located on his bed at the fire station. However, detectives were only able to elicit these statements after telling the defendant that if he were cooperative, they would inform the court and the district attorney about his cooperation. Based on the information the defendant provided, the police seized the defendant’s laptop from the fire station.

While the court granted defendant’s motion regarding his statements on the grounds that they were involuntary as they resulted from a promise, hope or reward, the court denied the motion to suppress evidence retrieved from the defendant’s laptop computer. 

On appeal, the appellate court reversed this decision. The court stated that although it was logical to assume that the police would have eventually searched the fire station for evidence, there was no evidence in the record to support this assumption apart from conclusory statements made by counsel.

I am  uneasy with such nitpicking.  Since a personal laptop was involved, there was no doubt that the police officers were eventually going to search his work place, the last known destination he was at before he was taken into custody. The facts of this case were sufficient to trigger the inevitable discovery doctrine. 

 Any future consequential concerns the appellate court had are remedied by the very nature of the doctrine itself.  It is generally accepted that inevitable discovery is to be determined on a case-to-case basis. 

The court ordered a new trial.  What a waste of the judicial system’s already strained resources. 


  1. You might be missing the burden of preponderance of 'evidence' the prosecution must carry. After reading the opinion it appears the prosecutor did not call any law enforcement to talk about procedures or apparently anything regarding a further search. This isn't a light burden, so conclusions and inferences without evidentiary backing generally won't carry the day.

    As the opinion states in more than one way:

    Although it seems entirely logical that the police would search the fire station for evidence regarding defendant's crimes and discover the location of the laptop computer, there is no evidence in the record to support this assumption.