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Smith v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

December 4, 2014

KIM E. SMITH, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE

Argued May 20, 2014.

Page 2

Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CMD-4599-12 & CMD-6355-12). (Hon. Marisa Demeo, Trial Judge).

Cynthia Nordone for appellant.

Jay Apperson, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Ronald Machen Jr., United States Attorney, and John P. Mannarino and Elizabeth Trosman, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

Before BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY and BECKWITH, Associate Judges, and KING, Senior Judge.

OPINION

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Blackburne-Rigsby, Associate Judge :

The issue on appeal is whether the exclusionary rule applies to " derivative evidence" resulting from an arrest warrant that was premised upon tainted evidence obtained during an illegal traffic stop.[1]

We hold that where an officer's mistake of law leads to a warrant premised on tainted evidence, derivative evidence obtained pursuant to that warrant must be excluded, unless there is an independent source for the evidence or sufficient attenuation to " purge the taint." The traffic stop at issue was premised on a " mistake of law," namely, that a license plate frame partially covering the District of Columbia motto on a license plate violated a municipal traffic regulation when no such violation actually occurred. See Whitfield v. United States, 99 A.3d 650, 652 (D.C. 2014). A mistake of law cannot provide the objective basis for reasonable suspicion or probable cause and therefore cannot support a valid warrant. See In re T.L., 996 A.2d 805, 816 (D.C. 2010). Accordingly, because the record does not demonstrate that the officer would have come upon the derivative evidence at issue in the absence of the

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unlawful traffic stop and there was no independent source or other attenuation to purge the taint of the initial illegality, the exclusionary rule applies and the derivative evidence must be suppressed. See Murray v. United States, 487 U.S. 533, 536-37, 108 S.Ct. 2529, 101 L.Ed.2d 472 (1988).

I. Factual Background

A. The Incident


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