A Misunderstood Area of Law
The exclusionary rule is a legal concept which dictates that evidence obtained from a case in which a defendant’s constitutional rights have been violate in order to obtain the evidence is inadmissible in criminal prosecution. The exclusionary rule is designed to protect individual rights most notably the 4th amendment right which protects against invasions of privacy or illegal search and seizure. Under the fourth amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized (Cornell Law, 2014).
The exclusionary rule also protects the 5th amendment right that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself” (Cornell Law, 2014). If a person is illegal searched then it can be said that he or she has been forced to incriminate themselves. As such the exclusionary rule protects people from this issue.
The exclusionary rule was created in Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914). The case involved a situation in which an individual was convicted on evidence which was obtained without a warrant or legal justification. This ruling created the exclusionary rule but also began a closely related legal doctrine which is often used in conjunction with the exclusionary rule which is known as “fruit of the poisonous tree” (Cornell Law, 2014). This doctrine provides the court with the right to exclude evidence that was obtained as a result of the evidence obtained from an illegal search. For instance, if the police search a person’s home without legal justification or warrant and find a suspicious map referring to a cabin and go to this cabin and find a person held captive, this may likely be excluded as evidence. Because the police violated the person’s fourth amendment rights with an illegal search, any evidence obtained in the search (the map to the cabin) can be excluded as it is considered “fruit of the poisonous tree” (Cornell Law, 2014).
There are some issues with the exclusionary rule. Most notably is the fact that the exclusionary rule can be applied to cases in which mistake were made and defendants are found innocent or their case is discharged due to a technicality such as mishandling of evidence or failure to follow a specific procedure. As a result of the social cost attached to using the exclusionary rule, courts have found it imperative to implement exceptions in order to protect the application of justice in society. Some of these exceptions to the rule include:
· Evidence unlawfully obtained from the defendant by a private person is admissible (Charles & Bishop, 1987).
· Evidence can only be suppressed if the illegal search violated the defendant’s constitutional rights (Cornell Law, 2014).
· The defendant cannot take advantage of the situation such as having a case of murder thrown out because the police violated a procedure which did not have constitutional value (Charles & Bishop, 1987).
· Inevitable discover- evidence obtained in an unlawful search would most likely been discovered eventually (Cornell Law, 2014).
· Good faith- if the police were acting in good faith and did not realize that the search warrant was not legal this may still allow for evidence to be admissible (Cornell Law, 2014).
The exclusionary rule was designed to deter police misconduct and to protect the constitutional rights of individuals. Prior to the exclusionary rule police could search homes and persons (despite needing a warrant) and this evidence could be used against the defendant. As a result of no consequences for the police misconduct individual rights could not be protected. The exclusionary rule is a powerful deterrent to police misconduct and should continue to be utilized even though there is the chance that guilty individuals will be set free. While this is a heavy social cost it seems worth the cost when one considers the alternative of police being able to violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendment.
Charles, W. T., & Bishop, D. M. (1987). Criminal Law: Understanding Basic Principles. Newbury Park, New York: Sage.
Cornell Law. (2014). Cornell Law. Retrieved from Cornell Law: http://www.law.cornell.edu/