The Exclusionary Rule in the United States

One of the most controversial and historical rulings that the United States Supreme Court has handed down was in 1961 Mapp v. Ohio ruling that extended “The Exclusionary Rule” to the States. Through the years, strong arguments for support, as well as for the criticism of this landmark decision have been made. Regardless of which side of the argument one finds their self, it is agreed that this decision has changed American justice and law enforcement procedure.

The exclusionary rule was developed by the United States Supreme Court stating that any and all evidence that is obtained in violation of a citizen’s constitutional rights by government and law enforcement officers or their agents, will be inadmissible in a criminal prosecution against the person whose rights were violated. The exclusionary rule prohibits introduction into evidence of any physical materials seized and testimony concerning the knowledge acquired during an unlawful search.

The rule prohibits testimony concerning knowledge acquired during an unlawful search. The exclusionary rule further prohibits the introduction of derivative evidence, that is the product of the primary evidence, or that is otherwise acquired as an indirect result of the unlawful search. The purpose of the exclusionary rule is to create a deterrence for law enforcement officers and other government officials from violating the constitutional rights of suspects by removing the incentive for obtaining illegally seized evidence. The rule does not apply to evidence obtained by persons not associated with or acting on behalf of government officials (Ferdico 76-77). The exclusionary was first developed in 1914 in the case of Weeks v. United States, though it was limited to a prohibition on the use of evidence illegally obtained by federal law enforcement officers (Schwartz 172-176).

In 1921, the case of Burdeau v. McDowell, a private citizen illegally seized certain papers from another private citizen and turned them over to the government. The court ruled that the papers having come into the possession of the government without violation of the petitioner’s right by government authority, we see no reason why the fact that individuals, unconnected with the government, may have wrongfully taken them, should prevent them being held for use in prosecuting an offense where the documents are of an incriminating character (Ferdico 77).

On the other hand, if the police had instigated, coerced and/or participated in an illegal search and the person acted with the intent of assisting the law enforcement officers or the government agency, that person would be considered as an agent of the government. Thereby, the evidence gathered will be subject to the exclusionary rule will in itself be constituted as evidence gathered by a governmental official.

Not until 1949, in the case of Wolf v. Colorado, did the Supreme Court rule that the Fourth Amendment was applicable to the states through the due process clause of the Fourth Amendment. The court was divided in this ruling and the rule was not mandated to the states, although it was adopted by some of the states. The court ruled that the security of one’s privacy against arbitrary intrusion by the police which is at the core of the Fourth Amendment is basic to a free society. It is therefore implicit in the concept of ordered liberty and as such enforceable against the states through the due process clause (Schwartz 168-169).

However, the ruling left enforcement of the Fourth Amendment rights to the discretion of the states, and did not require them to apply to the exclusionary rule. The mandate did not come until 1961 in the Mapp v. Ohio ruling (Schwartz 168-169). During the 1960s, a time in which the Supreme Court attempted to exercise strong policy control over the administration of criminal justice. The court began to make the states apply to more specific requirements of the Constitutional Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court also made the exclusionary rule applicable to other due process of law rights that are not specifically contained in the constitution or its amendments.

For example, if a confession is made as the result of coercion, then it is therefore involuntary and will be excluded because it is as violation of due process of law. Another example is when suspect identification procedures, such as line-ups, are not followed or are not fairly administered, may constitute a violation of due process of law.

The term “fruits of the poisonous tree” was developed in the case of Silverthorne v. Lumber Co v. United States (1920), where the court stated that the exclusionary rule is not limited to evidence that is the direct product of illegal police behavior, such as a coerced confession or the terms seized as a result of an illegal search. The rule also requires exclusion of evidence that is obtained indirectly when one’s constitutional rights are violated. The fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine applies only when a person’s constitutional rights have been violated. Neither the exclusionary rule nor the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine applies when a violation of rights is not of constitutional dimensions. Nevertheless, the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine may apply in different ways depending on the type and severity of the underlying violation of constitutional rights. As the U.S. Supreme Court stated with respect to the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment are different from unwarned interrogation under the fifth amendment (Ferdico 8589.)

Ever since its existence there has been countless criticism of the exclusionary rule from both political officials, law enforcement personnel, as wells as private citizens. Some critics of have sought several alternatives to the rule. One alternative calls for an illegal search and seizure to constitute a crime, thus making a law enforcement officer found to have performed an illegal search or seizure to be subject to prosecution. Historically, this alternative has not been favorable because law enforcement officers are rarely criminally prosecuted for acting above the scope of law enforcement. Currently, an officer found to have made an illegal search and seizure is subject to internal disciplinary procedures by their own departments, procedures, may include suspension. Persons who have been illegally arrested or have had their privacy invaded will usually have a tort action available under state statute or common law.

Moreover, law enforcement officers acting under state law who violate a person’s fourth amendment rights are not criminally liable, but are subject to a suit for damages and other remedies in federal courts under a federal civil rights statutes. While federal officers and others acting under the color of federal law are not subject jurisdictionally to this statute, the Supreme Court has held that a right to damages for violation of Fourth Amendment rights arises by implication out of the guarantees secured and that this right is enforceable in federal courts.

Some of the critics of the rule have sought modifications such as the “Good Faith Exception” and “Reasonable Mistake” because the grounds for a lawful search are complex and highly technical (Karson 74).

In conclusion, only time will tell how long the exclusionary rule will remain in its present form. American society and political emphasis may force the rule to be overturned depending on which justices are nominated and confirmed into the United States Supreme Court. Pressure from elected officials and their constituents may cause for justices that are on the far right of this argument to be nominated. Until then, law enforcement personnel, as well as prosecutors, will continue to educate themselves to avoid violations of the Fourth Amendment rights of unlawful search and seizure to ensure otherwise convicted criminals are not going free on mere technicalities.

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