The independent source doctrine does not rest upon a metaphysical analysis, but upon the policy that, while the government should not profit from its illegal activity, neither should it be placed in a worse position than it would otherwise have occupied. So long as a later, lawful seizure is genuinely independent of an earlier, tainted one, which may well be difficult to establish where the seized goods are kept in the police's possession, there is no reason why the independent source doctrine should not apply.
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.
Does the concept of “independent source” apply only to evidence obtained for the first time during an independent lawful search?
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.