Illinois v. Krull, 480 U.S. 340 (1987)

Author: U.S. Supreme Court

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Illinois v. Krull, 480 U.S. 340 (1987)

Illinois v. Krull

No. 85-608

Argued November 5, 1986
Decided March 9, 1987
480 U.S. 340



An Illinois statute, as it existed in 1981, required licensed motor vehicle and vehicular parts sellers to permit state officials to inspect certain required records. In 1981, pursuant to the statute, a police detective entered respondents’ automobile wrecking yard and asked to see records of vehicle purchases. He was told that the records could not be located, but was given a list of approximately five purchases. After receiving permission to look at the cars in the yard, he ascertained that three were stolen and that a fourth had had its identification number removed. He then seized the cars, and respondents were arrested and charged with various crimes. The state trial court granted respondents’ motion to suppress the evidence seized from the yard, agreeing with a federal court ruling, issued the day after the search, that the state statute violated the Fourth Amendment because it permitted officers unbridled discretion in their warrantless searches. The State Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting petitioner’s argument that the seized evidence was admissible because the detective had acted in good faith reliance on the statute in making the search.


1. The Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule does not apply to evidence obtained by police who acted in objectively reasonable reliance upon a statute authorizing warrantless administrative searches, but which is subsequently found to violate the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 349-355.

(a) Application of the exclusionary rule in these circumstances would have little deterrent effect on future police misconduct, which is the basic purpose of the rule. Officers conducting such searches are simply fulfilling their responsibility to enforce the statute as written. If a statute is not clearly unconstitutional, officers cannot be expected to question the judgment of the legislature that passed the law. Pp. 349-350.

(b) Application of the exclusionary rule cannot be justified on the basis of deterring legislative misconduct. Police, not legislators, are the focus of the rule. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that legislatures are inclined to ignore or subvert the Fourth Amendment. There is also no indication that the exclusion of evidence seized pursuant to a statute subsequently declared unconstitutional would have a significant deterrent effect on the enactment of similar laws. Legislators enact statutes for broad programmatic purposes, not for the purpose of procuring evidence in particular cases. The greatest deterrent to unconstitutional enactments is the courts’ power to invalidate such statutes. Even if the exclusionary rule provided some incremental deterrent, its benefit would be outweighed by the substantial social costs exacted by the rule. Pp. 350-353.

(c) The contention that the application of the exclusionary rule is required because large numbers of people are affected by a warrantless administrative search statute is not persuasive. Although the number of individuals affected may be considered in weighing the costs and benefits of applying the rule, the fact that many are affected will not require the rule’s application if such application will not have a meaningful deterrent effect. P. 353.

(d) The contention that the exception to the exclusionary rule recognized here will discourage criminal defendants from presenting meritorious Fourth Amendment claims is also not persuasive. Defendants will always be able to argue in a suppression motion that the officer’s reliance on the warrantless search statute was not objectively reasonable, and therefore was not in good faith. Furthermore, persons covered by a statute may bring an action seeking a declaration of the statute’s unconstitutionality and an injunction barring its implementation. Pp. 353-354.

(e) Under the exception to the exclusionary rule recognized here, a statute cannot support objectively reasonable reliance if, in passing it, the legislature wholly abandoned its responsibility to enact constitutional laws, or if the statutory provisions are such that a reasonable law enforcement officer should have known that the statute was unconstitutional. P. 355.

2. The detective’s reliance on the Illinois statute was objectively reasonable. Even assuming that the statute was unconstitutional because it vested state officials with too much discretion, this constitutional defect would not have been obvious to a police officer acting in good faith. Pp. 356-360.

107 Ill.2d 107, 481 N.E.2d 703, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 361. O’CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 361.


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Chicago: U.S. Supreme Court, "Syllabus," Illinois v. Krull, 480 U.S. 340 (1987) in 480 U.S. 340 480 U.S. 341–480 U.S. 342. Original Sources, accessed March 29, 2023,

MLA: U.S. Supreme Court. "Syllabus." Illinois v. Krull, 480 U.S. 340 (1987), in 480 U.S. 340, pp. 480 U.S. 341–480 U.S. 342. Original Sources. 29 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: U.S. Supreme Court, 'Syllabus' in Illinois v. Krull, 480 U.S. 340 (1987). cited in 1987, 480 U.S. 340, pp.480 U.S. 341–480 U.S. 342. Original Sources, retrieved 29 March 2023, from