UNITED STATES V. CECCOLINI, 435 U. S. 268 (1978)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Ceccolini, 435 U.S. 268 (1978)

United States v. Ceccolini

No. 76-1151

Argued December 5, 1977

Decided March 21, 1978

435 U.S. 268


A police officer (Biro), while taking a break in respondent's flower shop and conversing with an employee of the shop (Hennessey), noticed an envelope with money protruding therefrom lying on the cash register. Upon examination, he found it contained not only money, but policy slips. Biro then placed the envelope back on the register and, without telling Hennessey what he had found, asked her to whom the envelope belonged. She told him it belonged to respondent. Biro's finding was reported to local detectives and to the FBI, who interviewed Hennessey some four months later without referring to the incident involving Biro. About six months after that incident, respondent was summoned before a federal grand jury, where he testified that he had never taken policy bets at his shop, but Hennessey testified to the contrary, and, shortly thereafter, respondent was indicted for perjury. Hennessey testified against respondent at his trial, but, after a finding of guilt, the District Court granted respondent's motion to suppress Hennessey's testimony and set aside that finding. The Court of Appeals affirmed, noting that the "road" to that testimony from the concededly unconstitutional search was "both straight and uninterrupted."

Held: The Court of Appeals erred in concluding that the degree of attenuation between Biro's search of the envelope and Hennessey's testimony at the trial was not sufficient to dissipate the connection between the illegality of the search and challenged testimony. Pp. 435 U. S. 273-280.

(a) In determining whether the exclusionary rule, with its deterrent purpose, should be applied, its benefits should be balanced against its costs, and, in evaluating the standards for application of the rule to live witness testimony in light of this balance, material factors to be considered are the length of the "road" between the Fourth Amendment violation and the witness' testimony; the degree of free will exercised by the witness; and the fact that exclusion of the witness' testimony would perpetually disable the witness from testifying about relevant and material facts regardless of how unrelated such testimony might be to the purpose of the originally illegal search or the evidence discovered thereby. Pp. 435 U. S. 273-279.

(b) Here, where the evidence indicates overwhelmingly that Hennessey's

Page 435 U. S. 269

testimony was an act of her own free will in no way coerced or induced by official authority as a result of Biro's discovery of the policy slips where substantial time elapsed between the illegal search and the initial contact with the witness and between the latter and her trial testimony, and where both Hennessey's identity and her relationship with respondent were well known to the investigating officers, and there is no evidence that Biro entered the shop or picked up the envelope with the intent of finding evidence of an illicit gambling operation, application of the exclusionary rule could not have the slightest deterrent effect on the behavior of an officer such as Biro, and the cost of permanently silencing Hennessey is too great for an evenhanded system of law enforcement to bear in order to secure such a speculative and very likely negligible deterrent effect. Pp. 435 U. S. 279-280.

(c) The exclusionary rule should be invoked with much greater reluctance where the claim is based on a causal relationship between a constitutional violation and the discovery of a live witness than when a similar claim is advanced to support suppression of an inanimate object. P. 435 U. S. 280.

542 F.2d 136, reversed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J.,filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 435 U. S. 280. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 435 U. S. 285. BLACKMUN, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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