State v. Malecha




Minnesota Supreme Court

Citation and Year

2024 WL 949625 (Minn. 2024)

Constitutional Provision or State Statute

Minn. Const. art I, § 10

Nature of Case

Local police arrested Rebecca Melacha on an arrest warrant and then searched her “incident to arrest,” finding controlled substances. The officers later learned that the arrest warrant was invalid — it had been quashed by a district court — yet still appeared active in their database because of a clerical error by court personnel. Malecha filed a motion to dismiss the drug charges brought against her, arguing that her arrest and subsequent search were unconstitutional. Prosecutors argued that while the warrant was invalid, the usual remedy for illegal searches—excluding the evidence—should not apply because the officers made a “good faith” mistake, invoking an exception recognized under both the federal Fourth Amendment and the Minnesota state constitution.


Under the Minnesota state constitution analog to the federal Fourth Amendment, the “good faith exception” to the exclusionary rule does not apply to evidence obtained during a search and arrest based upon a quashed warrant that appeared active because of court personnel error. The evidence must be excluded and the charges against Malecha dismissed.


First, the court recognized that, under the Fourth Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court has applied the good faith exception more broadly than the Minnesota state supreme court has under the state constitution, including under facts analogous to this particular case. Specifically, in Arizona v. Evans, decided in 1995, the Court distinguished between clerical errors by law enforcement and court employees, and applied the good-faith exception to the latter. But here the state supreme court reiterated that “we employ our independent judgment in interpreting the Minnesota Constitution,” and declined to extend Evans to claims raised under the state constitution.

Instead, it noted that “have adopted the good-faith exception under the Minnesota Constitution in only one limited circumstance: when law enforcement officers obtain evidence in reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent that specifically authorizes the police conduct at issue.” In contrast to that narrow circumstance, “the facts here show that court administration made clerical errors that resulted in an unlawful search, for which they can properly be held responsible.” Unlike appellate precedent that is later overturned, the “constitutional violation was closely connected to the government error,” and unlike in Evans the court thought it inappropriate to distinguish between police and court personnel mistakes: “in addition to the central object of deterring unlawful police conduct, we recognize other purposes served by exclusion, including the related goal of more generally deterring unlawful government conduct.”

Instead, the court recognized “that applying the exclusionary rule can deter even clerical errors and provide a powerful incentive to the government to promote the prompt and careful updating of computer records. If government actors generally, rather than only law enforcement, know that the negligent failure to communicate the recall of an arrest warrant will result in the exclusion of evidence obtained pursuant to that warrant, those actors will have an incentive to exercise better judgment, act with greater diligence, and implement improved policies to avoid the costs associated with such errors.”