Evaluation Of The Exclusionary Rule

An evaluation of the exclusionary rule, very important to the lives of all of us. Learn more about your rights as a citizen.

Many people are familiar with the concept that they have a right to privacy, and cannot be searched without a warrant. However, not many people understand how the exclusionary rule, which is what actually enforces this right, protects us.

The purpose of the Exclusionary Rule is to deter police misconduct. If a police officer violates a citizen's 4th amendment right to be free from illegal searches and seizers, that evidence is to be suppressed in federal court.

The exclusionary rule has 3 elements. First, there must be an illegal action by a police officer, or by someone acting as n agent of the police. Second, there must be evidence secured. The third element states that there must be a casual connection between the illegal action and the evidence secured. If there is an illegal action, but it cannot be proven that the action in question was responsible for the collection of the evidence, the evidence does not fall under the exclusionary rule by the doctrine of attenuation.

If the defense believes such an offense has taken place, the defense lawyer may file a motion to suppress the evidence. It is then up to the prosecutor to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the evidence was collected without violating the defendant's 4th amendment rights. If the prosecution fails to prove this case, the evidence will be suppressed from the case-in-chief. This means the evidence may not be used while the prosecution is trying to prove its case. However, this evidence may be allowed during rebuttal when attempting to determine credibility of the witness. The illegally seized evidence may also be admissible in grand jury hearings as well as in civil courts.

There are three exceptions to the exclusionary rule. In these cases, while the situation meets the three elements needed to trigger the exclusionary rule, the evidence will be allowed anyway.

The first exception is the Independent Source Doctrine. This exception was created in the Supreme Court case of Segura and Colon v U.S in 1984. In this situation, evidence is seized in two different physical ways. One of them is illegal, but the second seizure of the same evidence is legal. For example, if one were to photo-copy financial records without a warrant of someone suspected of embezzlement, but then later returned with a warrant and re-copied the information, that evidence would be allowed.

The second exception is the Inevitable Discovery Doctrine. The case that added this exception was Nix vs. Williams, in 1984. This exception states that the evidence is seized in two different ways, but only one being physical. The evidence is secured physically by illegal means, but there is also a hypothetical seizure of the evidence that would not have been illegal. For example, if a dead body was buried, and the police violated a defendant's rights in order to force him to tell where the body was, this would be the illegal physical seizure. However, if there was a search for the body in progress that would have eventually crossed the area where the body was to be found, this would be the hypothetical seizure. The prosecution must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the evidence would have been located by this hypothetical means had it not been sized illegally.

The third and final exception is that of Good Faith, which was added in the Supreme Court cases of U.S. vs. Leon and Mass. vs. Sheppard, both in 1984. In this case, a police officer receives a warrant from a magistrate and acts on it to seize evidence. However, there may have been an error in allowing the police officer to have the warrant. Since the point of the exclusionary rule is to deter police misconduct, and there would have been no misconduct by a police officer, the evidence would not be suppressed.

The Good Faith exception itself has limitations. If the defense can show that the police officer misled the magistrate to issue the warrant by providing information he knew to be false, or showed a reckless disregard for the truth, this would prove that there was no good faith. Also, the magistrate must be performing his duty in a neutral and detached manner. If the magistrate was simply acting as a rubber stamp, this too invalidates the good faith. The warrant must also specifically state what is to be seized, and where it is to be seized. If the warrant is facially deficient in these regards, once again the good faith argument is invalidated. The final limitation on the good faith rule is that of probable cause. The warrant must show probable cause for the seizure of evidence. If a logical person cannot determine logical cause from the warrant, good faith is eliminated once more.

The exclusionary rule cannot be found in the United States Constitution, it was a judicial construction. The U.S. Supreme Court created the exclusionary rule out of necessity. They deemed that it was the only method to enforce the protections of the 4th amendment. The Supreme Court originally created the exclusionary rule in the case of Weeks vs. US in 1914. This case only applied the exclusionary rule to defendants being prosecuted in federal court. The Supreme Court later expanded the protection to defendants in state court in the case of Mapp vs. Ohio in 1961.

As you can see, a citizens right to be free from warrantless searches is hardly absolute. The Supreme Court has the right to create exceptions that reduce our privacy at will. It is very important for us all to keep up with these decisions, as you never know when you will be the next person being searched.

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