The exclusionary rule states that illegally-obtained evidence and statements obtained through an illegal interrogation, in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, or Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, are inadmissible at the criminal trial of a person whose rights were violated. In basic terms, the illegally obtained evidence cannot be used against the defendant. The rule applies to criminal cases and not civil cases. In order for this rule to be invoked, the violation must have been of the defendant’s rights and not someone else’s. However, like any other rule, exceptions do apply. If an exception is met, then the evidence will be admitted into the case.
The Constitutional Basis of the Exclusionary Rule
Application of the exclusionary rule is based on several United States Constitutional amendments, which include the following:
- The Fourth Amendment, which acknowledges a person’s right to privacy from unreasonable searches and seizures
- The Fifth Amendment, which protects individuals against self-compelled incrimination
- The Sixth Amendment, which recognizes a person’s right to counsel in a criminal proceeding as well as a person’s right to confront his or her accuser
The History of the Exclusionary Rule
The 1914 case of Weeks v. United States was a landmark case that laid down the basis for the exclusionary rule. The case involves Fremont Weeks, who was believed to have transported lottery tickets through the mail in violation of the Criminal Code. In response, law enforcement arrested Weeks and searched his office. Based on this evidence, Weeks was convicted. During a subsequent appeal, Weeks argued that the court had violated his Fourth Amendment right to be protected from illegal searches and seizures. In its subsequent decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the search and seizure of Weeks’ home violated his Fourth Amendment rights. In its majority opinion, the court held that the illegally seized evidence constituted “fruit from the poisonous tree.”
In 1949, the Supreme Court held another landmark exclusionary rule case: Wolf v. United States. The petitioner in this case was convicted by a state court of conspiring to commit illegal abortions. The petitioner appealed and argued that his Fourth Amendment constitutional right to be free from illegal searches and seizures was violated and that any evidence used against him violated the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court of the United States subsequently held that due process is not denied when evidence obtained through an illegal search and seizure is admitted by a state court for a state offense.
As a result of Weeks and Wolf, forms of the exclusionary rule existed in several states for many decades. In 1961, however, the rule was extended throughout the country and gained popularity among criminal defendants as a potential defense.
That is because in 1961, the United States Supreme Court heard the case of Mapp v. Ohio. This case arose from the decision of Ohio law enforcement to enter Mapp’s home without her approval. Instead, law enforcement was acting on a tip that a bomb was located inside of Mapp’s residence. While law enforcement did not find a bomb, pornographic material that had been left by a prior tenant was seized. Consequently, Mapp was arrested because possession of pornography was a crime in Ohio then. Following a conviction, Mapp argued on appeal that the warrant was fake and that law enforcement’s decision to enter the home without justification violated Mapp’s constitutional right. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mapp.
Exceptions to the Exclusionary Rule
- Inevitable discovery rule: This includes evidence that would have been inevitably discovered through lawful means. It is similar to the independent source doctrine.
- Independent source doctrine: This applies to evidence initially discovered during, or as a consequence of, an illegal search, but that same evidence was later obtained independently from activities untainted by the initial illegality. This is because if the illegal activity by police had not occurred, the evidence would still be admitted in court.
- Knock and announce: This rule states that when an officer is executing a search warrant, he or she generally must not forcefully enter a residence, but instead first knock, identify him or herself and the intent, and wait a reasonable amount of time for the resident to answer. The exclusionary rule may apply to some violations of the rule, but not all, and therefore the applicability is determined on a case by case basis. As a result, evidence gathered following a knock and announce violation is not always excluded.
- Attenuation principal: Admission of evidence may be permitted if the connection between the evidence and the illegal means by which it was obtained is remote and attenuated.
- Good faith exception: This applies to officers who had a reasonable, good faith belief that they were acting according to legal authority, such as by relying on a search warrant that is later found to have been legally defective. This exception does not apply if:
- No reasonable officer would rely on the affidavit underlying the warrant;
- The warrant is defective on its face;
- The warrant was obtained by fraud;
- The magistrate judge “wholly abandoned his judicial role;” or
- The warrant was improperly executed
- Isolated police negligence: This will not necessarily trigger the exclusionary rule. To trigger this rule, police conduct must be deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent. For example, if law enforcement were to conduct a search without a warrant and knowing that no warrant exceptions applied, a strong defense could likely be raised.
- In court identification: A witness may make an in-court identification despite the existence of prior illegality. This is because the information stems from the witness and not just the illegal gathering of evidence.
Speak with an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you have been convicted of a crime and believe that the exclusionary rule applies to your case, in order to prevent evidence from being used against you, please contact the attorneys at the Federal Criminal Law Center. Our dedicated team will analyze your case, and if evidence was illegally obtained, we will work to exclude it from your case.