The Exclusionary Rule is an addendum to the Fourth Amendment of the Unites States Constitution. While the Fourth Amendment declared a citizen’s right to privacy in home, papers, and property, there were no set rules about the collection of evidence. The prevalence of illegally seized evidence made this addendum a necessity. Further exceptions were added to help clarify this rule for both law enforcement and citizens alike. The Exclusionary Rule and its exceptions provide benefits to citizens, but not without costs, and continue to be a subject of debate.
In principle, the Exclusionary Rule declares that evidence gathered as a result of an illegal search is inadmissible in court (Zalman, 2011). This concept is largely the product of constitutional monarchies and republics as the will of a theocratic monarch would be above contestation. Further, any evidence that could only be retrieved as a result of that initial illegal search is considered inadmissible under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. Historically, common law stated that a person had a right against self-incrimination however all evidence was admissible in court. This changed in 1914 with Weeks v. United States, when the Supreme Court declared that evidence seized without a warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. This ruling only applied to federal courts. This became an issue in 1949 in the case of Wolf v. Colorado (Zalman, 2011). Under federal ruling, the evidence used to convict Doctor Wolf of performing abortions which were illegal in Colorado would have been considered illegal; however, the state was not obligated to adopt the Exclusionary Rule and Dr. Wolf spent 18 months in prison. Eventually, the Exclusionary Rule was incorporated as part of the 1961 decision in Mapp v. Ohio.
While the adoption of the Exclusionary Rule has been essential to thwarting abuses of power, there are several exclusions by which law enforcement may still enter illegally seized or deceptively gathered evidence. Among these are good faith, evidence from an independent source, inevitable discovery, and attenuation. Good faith essentially means that the officer believed that he or she was gathering evidence legally despite the fact. This heavily undermines the Exclusionary Rule, relegating it to a deterrent rather than an assertion of individual rights. Evidence from an independent source is admissible as the Exclusionary Rule only applies to government officials. Under this exception, evidence can be gathered by a third party and handed over to law enforcement without the legal trappings of the Fourth Amendment. The exception of inevitable discovery states that is the evidence would have eventually been found. For example, in the case of Nix v. Williams in 1984, the evidence of a girl’s body was deemed admissible despite an unconstitutional interrogation because it would have been inevitable found following the search party’s instructions (Zalman, 2011). Finally, the attenuation exclusion is used when the link between the tainted evidence and the initial illegal search is tenuous.
While the Exclusionary Rule provides the benefit of protection to the United States citizen, it is not without the cost of letting criminals go free if the criminal justice professional acts illegally. These exclusions give the prosecution to enter this evidence despite the wrongdoings of the officer; possibly getting the conviction that otherwise would have been lost. Despite this, there are those that offer alternatives to the Exclusionary Rule including federal tort cases and even contempt of court (Zalman, 2011).
However, with all of these exclusions, the necessity of the Exclusionary Rule has become an issue of debate. However, this rule provides a necessary buffer between the United States citizen and those corrupt officials that may act as harbingers of tyranny. As technology advance, the right to privacy must be protected as law enforcement officials test the boundaries of what is considered legal and what is considered an illegal search. This has recently included the decision that a drug-sniffing dog is not performing an illegal search, but that the use of infrared imaging devices violated a person’s right to privacy (Sanchez, 2007). With boundaries constantly being tested, the American citizen needs the protection of the Exclusionary Rule to remind law enforcement that there are rules and the tranny is not law.
The Exclusionary Rule is a necessary element of the Fourth Amendment. It reiterates the right to privacy that is occasionally abused by persons of authority. Combined with the exclusions, the Exclusionary Rule will continue to be controversial as long as elements of corruption and a passion for privacy are at play.
Sanchez, J. (2007). How we got to Caballes. Reason, 38(4), 24-25.
Zalman, M. (2011). Criminal Procedure: Constitution and society (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.