Murray v United States: 27 Jun 1988

USSC While surveilling petitioner Murray and others suspected of illegal drug activities, federal agents observed both petitioners driving vehicles into, and later out of, a warehouse, and, upon petitioners’ exit, saw that the warehouse contained a tractor-trailer rig bearing a long container.
Petitioners later turned over their vehicles to other drivers, who were in turn followed and ultimately arrested, and the vehicles were lawfully seized and found to contain marijuana. After receiving this information, several agents forced their way into the warehouse and observed in plain view numerous burlap-wrapped bales. The agents left without disturbing the bales and did not return until they had obtained a warrant to search the warehouse. In applying for the warrant, they did not mention the prior entry or include any recitations of their observations made during that entry. Upon issuance of the warrant, they reentered the warehouse and seized 270 bales of marijuana and other evidence of crime. The District Court denied petitioners’ pretrial motion to suppress the evidence, rejecting their arguments that the warrant was invalid because the agents did not inform the Magistrate about their prior warrantless entry, and that the warrant was tainted by that entry. Petitioners were subsequently convicted of conspiracy to possess and distribute illegal drugs. The Court of Appeals affirmed, assuming for purposes of its decision on the suppression question that the first entry into the warehouse was unlawful.
Held: The Fourth Amendment does not require the suppression of evidence initially discovered during police officers’ illegal entry of private premises, if that evidence is also discovered during a later search pursuant to a valid warrant that is wholly independent of the initial illegal entry.
(a) The ‘independent source’ doctrine permits the introduction of evidence initially discovered during, or as a consequence of, an unlawful search, but later obtained independently from lawful activities untainted by the initial illegality. Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, [1920] USSC 22; 251 U.S. 385, 40 S.Ct. 182, 64 L.Ed. 319. There is no merit to petitioners’ contention that allowing the doctrine to apply to evidence initially discovered during an illegal search, rather than limiting it to evidence first obtained during a later lawful search, will encourage police routinely to enter premises without a warrant.
(b) Although the federal agents’ knowledge that marijuana was in the warehouse was assuredly acquired at the time of the unlawful entry, it was also acquired at the time of entry pursuant to the warrant, and if that later acquisition was not the result of the earlier entry, the independent source doctrine allows the admission of testimony as to that knowledge. This same analysis applies to the tangible evidence, the bales of marijuana. United States v. Silvestri, 787 F.2d 736 (CA1, 1986), is unpersuasive insofar as it distinguishes between tainted intangible and tangible evidence. The ultimate question is whether the search pursuant to warrant was in fact a genuinely independent source of the information and tangible evidence at issue. This would not have been the case if the agents’ decision to seek the warrant was prompted by what they had seen during the initial entry or if information obtained during that entry was presented to the Magistrate and affected his decision to issue the warrant. Because the District Court did not explicitly find that the agents would have sought a warrant if they had not earlier entered the warehouse, the cases are remanded for a determination whether the warrant-authorized search of the warehouse was an independent source in the sense herein described.


Justice Scalia


[1988] USSC 147, 487 US 533, 108 SCt 2529



Cited by:

CitedHer Majesty’s Advocate v P SC 6-Oct-2011
(Scotland) The appellant had been interviewed by police without being offered access to a solicitor. He complained that the interview and information obtained only through it had been used to found the prosecution.
Held: The admission of the . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

International, Criminal Practice

Updated: 04 May 2022; Ref: scu.445166