Published on: Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Federal judges in Memphis have excluded evidence in at least 10 cases involving the city’s police department over the past five years, chastising officers in several cases for overzealous policing, according to a review by The Marshall Project and the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis (article available here).

The rulings criticizing the actions of Memphis police officers have come from judges, including appointees of former Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.

Judges in federal court rarely throw out evidence in cases. It’s so unusual, that a former federal prosecutor in Memphis said he can’t recall ever losing a Fourth Amendment challenge over his three-decade career.

The finding comes as the U.S. Department of Justice embarks on a civil rights investigation of Memphis police following the beating death of motorist Tyre Nichols, and five officers being charged with murder in the case.

Defense attorneys say the number of successful Fourth Amendment challenges increased in recent years in Memphis as the police department waged an intensive campaign in largely minority neighborhoods. Most of the successful challenges identified by the news organizations involved traffic stops and searches of pedestrians.

While some believe that the successful challenges in Memphis are a sign that the justice system is working, the outcomes provide little solace for people whose rights have been violated and lives upended.