Criminal Procedure keyed to Kamisar
Stone v. Powell
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Mr. Powell was convicted of murder in a California state court in June 1968. Mr. Powell and three companions entered the Bonanza Liquor Store in San Bernardino, California around midnight on February 17, 1968. Mr. Powell became involved in an altercation with the store manager over the theft of a bottle of wine. Mr. Powell shot and killed the store manager’s wife. Ten hours later, an officer of the Henderson, Nevada, Police Department arrested Mr. Powell for violation of the Henderson vagrancy ordinance. In the search incident to the arrest, the officer discovered a .38 caliber revolver with six expended cartridges in the cylinder. A criminologist’s testified that the revolver found on Mr. Powell was the murder weapon. The store manager and Mr. Powell’s accomplices testified against him. The trial court rejected Mr. Powell’s contention that the testimony of the criminologists should have been excluded because the ordinance was unconstitutional, and the arrest invalid. The appellate court affirmed, finding it unnecessary to decide the legality of the arrest and search because the court’s conclusion that the error, if any, in admitting the testimony was harmless. Mr. Powell applied for habeas corpus relief in Federal District Court (“District Court”), and the District Court concluded that the arresting officer had probable cause and, even if the vagrancy ordinance was unconstitutional, the deterrent purpose of the exclusionary rule did not require that it be applied to bar admission of the fruits of a search incident to an otherwise valid arrest. The District Court also held, alternatively, any error in admission was harmless. The Court of Appeals reversed concluding that the ordinance was unconstitutional, and Mr. Powell’s arrest was illegal. Further, the Court of Appeals noted that while exclusion of evidence would serve no deterrent purpose with regard to officers enforcing statutes in good faith, it would deter legislators from enacting unco nstitutional statutes. The Court of Appeals also held that the admission of the evidence was not harmless.
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