Justice Goes Unserved
I am sure that many of you remember the case involving the murder of Pamela Mason, a teenage girl from Manchester, New Hampshire. Pamela went out one day in January 1964, after she received a call from a man, to inquire about a babysitting position. Pamela never made it home that day. An investigation led officers to Edward Coolidge in which Mr. Coolidge’s wife later presented the officers with the gun used in the murder of Pamela Mason. Police searched Mr. Coolidge’s car to find particles of gunpowder, which was presented in the trial and led to the conviction of Edward Coolidge. Sadly though, the Supreme Court reversed the decision based on the Exclusionary Rule stating that “… The warrant authorizing the seizure and subsequent search of his 1951 Pontiac automobile was invalid because not issued by a ‘neutral and detached magistrate'” among other technicalities. In other words, because of minor mistakes and technicalities, the family of Pamela Mason was denied justice.
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States was enacted to protect citizens from unlawful search and seizure. However, the Fourth Amendment has many flaws that our Justice System has tried to smooth over. For instance, the Fourth Amendment does not define exactly what makes an illegal search and seizure or define exactly what makes up probable cause. To make up for this void in the Fourth Amendment, the Exclusionary Rule was enacted that says any evidence obtained illegally in violation of Fourth Amendment rights is forbidden in criminal trials.
History of the Exclusionary Rule
“The Exclusionary Rule, as applied to Fourth Amendment search and seizure law, originated with the US Supreme Court’s 1914 decision in Weeks v. US (1914)” (Davis, 1997, para. 5). In 1970, the US Supreme Court reasoned the Exclusionary Rule’s sole role was to prevent law enforcement misconduct. However, it was best said by Former Chief Justice Warren Burger when he said, “There is no empirical evidence to support the claim that the rule actually deters illegal conduct of law-enforcement officials.” (Reynolds, 2001, pg . 68). In fact, if one thinks about it, when a criminal is released by the Exclusionary Rule because of a technicality, it is not the police who suffers, but society who has to deal with future crimes by an individual the system freed. As a matter of fact, the only thing the Exclusionary Rule accomplishes is allowing an easy way for officers to make “mistakes” over and over again. Not to mention it allows bad cops to “help” certain criminals through these “mistakes” (Reynolds, 2001). Meanwhile, over 20,000 criminals go free yearly due to the Exclusionary Rule. In fact, research has shown that the rise of nearly 15 percent in criminality is directly connected to the Exclusionary Rule. When considering these statistics, it is obvious that police officers are not being deterred from becoming corrupt; society is being punished. Law enforcement agencies are judged on the amount of arrests not on the amount of convictions.
Mapp Vs. Ohio
Exceptions are not the cure for the problem, but the mere avoidance of the issue. This is not some minor issue that we can take on a case by case presentation. In Mapp v. Ohio, policemen, searching for a person suspected in connection with a bombing, used force to enter Ms. Mapp’s home. These policemen claimed to have a legal warrant to search the home. Ms. Mapp was detained and placed upstairs while the search of her home was conducted. In court, there was no warrant issued. In fact, instead of finding what the officers originally wanted, the officers obtained obscene material instead. This evidence is what was used to ensure Ms. Mapp’s conviction. Instead of addressing the issue of how to reprimand the officers for violating Ms. Mapp’s Fourth Amendment rights, the court made an exception to the Exclusionary Rule. This exception did not cure the problem we face today, but merely avoided the real issue at hand. The US Supreme Court did state it right though when the court stated that “… nothing can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own law.” (Davis, 1997, p. 103, para. 2) However, the law that went ignored is Ms. Mapp’s Fourth Amendment rights under the Justice System’s foundation of law; the United States Constitution.
Law enforcement agencies are held at a higher standard by American citizens. Police officers are the ones who we call upon in time of need and crisis. Therefore, to allow exceptions which give police the right to infringe upon the citizen’s rights is to laugh at the Constitution of the United States and make the Fourth Amendment worthless. Citizens of the United States elect these officials to protect them and represent their rights as citizens; not to infringe upon them and only enforce these rights when it is convenient to us.
Stricter Laws and Police Officer Accountability
The solution will not prove to be painless. What I propose is stricter laws on officers and enforcement agencies when times have arrived that police officers have decided to step outside the law to enforce the law. Today, if an officer is found to have conducted an illegal search and seizure, the officer faces anywhere from suspension or fines to civil suits. To have the need for such a step as the Exclusionary Rule is obvious that these methods of punishment are not deterring the corruption of law enforcement officials. Now is the time for a crackdown. Tougher policies, such as termination of employment or even imprisonment depending on the severity of the case, need to be enacted. Why should police officers be any different from citizens who break the law? When a citizen breaks the law, they face charges. When an officer breaks the law, they face a lawsuit. Every day we create ways to crack down on crime, are our law enforcement agencies above this standard somehow?
Davis, R. (1997). What Fourth Amendment? HR 666 and the satanic expansion of the good faith exception. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategy and Management. 20(1). P. 101-112. Retrieved from Emerald database.
Reynolds, M.O. (2001). Debating crime: Retoric and reality Issue 4: Why Stop Halfway? (Need to repeal the Exclusionary Rule). [Axia College Custom Edition e-text]. Stamford: Thomson Learning. Retrieved from Axia College, rEsource , ADJ 255-Contemporary Issues in Criminology Website.