The Exception to the Exclusionary Rule

In our last few blog posts, we have discussed with the exclusionary rule and how it does not go far enough to protect the civil rights that are guaranteed to you by the Fourth Amendment. While the exclusionary rule provides an excellent way for criminal defense attorneys, like those at the Federal Criminal Law Center, to exclude evidence that was illegally obtained through an unreasonable search or seizure, it does not do anything to deter further civil rights violations and police misconduct.

Even worse, the exclusionary rule does not always prevent evidence from being admissible in court. There is one important exception to the exclusionary rule, which allows police to violate your civil rights and yet still get to present the evidence that they find against you in trial.

Fourth Amendment Refresher

Recall that the Fourth Amendment prohibits law enforcement from making searches or seizures that are “unreasonable.” If they violate the Fourth Amendment, then the evidence that they obtain, either directly or indirectly through the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, from that violation of your rights cannot be used against you in a trial. Instead, it gets excluded from court by the exclusionary rule.

The Good Faith Exception to the Exclusionary Rule

Unfortunately, there is one crucial exception to the exclusionary rule that allows evidence obtained through a civil rights violation to still be admissible in court.

If police or other law enforcement look for evidence while believing, in good faith, that they are justified in conducting the search, whatever evidence that they find will not be excluded, even if they end up violating the Fourth Amendment during their search.

An Example of How the Good Faith Exception Works

A real-life example of how the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule works can be helpful to understand exactly what this means.

When police are investigating a crime, they often have plenty of time to plan and conduct a search for evidence. In these cases, they go to a judge or magistrate, tell him or her why they want to conduct the search, and show the judge or magistrate that they have probable cause to conduct it. If the judge is satisfied that there is probable cause to do the search, then he or she will issue a search warrant. Armed with the search warrant, police conduct the search, find evidence, make an arrest, and file charges.

Judges and magistrates, however, are human. If they make a mistake, and it is later found that the search warrant was not supported by probable cause and therefore should not have been issued, then the subsequent police search would have violated the Fourth Amendment. The evidence, however, was discovered by police who were acting in a good faith belief that their search was justified, and so will not be excluded from court by the exclusionary rule.

The Federal Criminal Law Center

Despite its shortcomings, the exclusionary rule is one of the most powerful weapons that criminal defense attorneys can use to protect those accused of a crime. If you are facing federal charges, contact the Federal Criminal Law Center to start planning your defense.