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The Exclusionary Rule

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This paper will present the Exclusionary Rule and the original intentions for its enactment. It will discuss the importance of the rule and how it is a protection against an unlawful search and seizure and a violation of the rights provided by the Fourth Amendment. Also, this document will display the history of the Exclusionary Rule, with its first appearance in the case, Boyd v. United States in 1886. Weeks v. United States will show a better-established, stronger version of the exclusionary rule. Another expansion of the rule will be described by the Mapp v. Ohio case. In this paper, I will also state and describe the four primary exceptions to the exclusionary rule: Inevitable Discovery Doctrine, Valid Independent Source, Harmless Error, and the Good Faith Exception. I will subsequently describe the possible abuse of these exceptions and the complications with the exceptions. The document will examine statistical data regarding the exclusionary rule and conclude with my personal opinions regarding the exclusionary rule and its exceptions.

According to TheFreeDictionary.com, the Exclusionary Rule, by definition, is “the principle based on federal Constitutional Law that evidence illegally seized by law enforcement officers in violation of a suspect’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures cannot be used against the suspect in a criminal prosecution”. This doctrine prevents the introduction of evidence at a trial that was obtained by illegal police activity and/or investigation and excludes it from being admissible as evidence in court. The exclusionary rule was originally designed to exclude evidence that was illegally obtained by an officer by violation of a person’s Fourth Amendment rights. “The exclusionary rule also helps preserve judicial integrity by preventing judicial agreement in denying a person’s Fourth Amendment rights, deters police misconduct by making improperly obtained evidence inadmissible in court and protects citizens’ constitutional “right to privacy”. (Harr, Hess, & Orthmann, 2012, p 215).

The Fourth Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, bet supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” (Fourth Amendment, n.d.) The exclusionary rule was first introduced in Boyd v. United States in 1886. In this case, the defendant was accused of falsifying documents to avoid customs fees or duties. The U.S. government requested Boyd to produce documentation showing the quantity and value of the shipments of plate glass that he had been shipping. The defendant protested the request, claiming that he should not be required to produce evidence against himself; the motion was overruled and the judgment favored the government. The U.S. Supreme Court held that “a search and seizure [was] equivalent [to] a compulsory production of a man’s private papers” and that the search was “an ‘unreasonable search and seizure’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment”, thus the first exclusion of evidence by governmental illegality, the exclusionary rule. (Boyd v. United States, 2012) (Boyd v. United States, n.d.)

In 1914, the Supreme Court established the Exclusionary Rule in the case, Weeks v. United States, under the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unlawful searches and seizures. In Weeks v. United States, Fremont Weeks was accused and charged with transporting lottery tickets by mail for illegal gambling purposes. The police conducted the search of Weeks’ home without a search warrant on two different occasions. According to Cases.laws.com, The Supreme Court unanimously held that the warrantless seizure of the evidence obtained from Weeks’ residence sufficiently constitutes a violation of the Fourth Amendment and, thus, the evidence cannot be used against the defendant in court. The Weeks case specifically displayed that illegally obtained evidence, which violates the defendant’s constitutional rights were excluded from use in federal courts only. (Weeks v. United States, 2011) Another expansion of the exclusionary rule was introduced in the Mapp v. Ohio case in 1961. In this case, the defendant, Dollree Mapp was suspected of harboring a person that was suspected in a bombing in her basement.

Mapp refused to allow the officers into her home without a search warrant. The officers returned to the residence three hours with more officers, again, requesting entry. When the defendant refused the second request, the officers opened a door to the house by forced entry. The defendant confronted the officers, demanding to see the search warrant and the officers waived a piece of paper in the air, claiming it to be a valid search warrant for that residence. Shortly later, the police handcuffed Mapp and continued to search the home for the fugitive. During the search, the police officers uncovered a briefcase, which contained a small collection of pornographic books, pictures, and photographs; but no fugitive was found. (Harr, Hess, & Orthmann, 2012). Mapp was subsequently arrested for violation of an Ohio law which prohibits possession of obscene material. At her trial, Mapp was convicted based on the evidence presented in court. When the officers were asked by Mapp’s attorney to provide a copy of the search warrant, they could not produce one; meaning they conducted the search without a warrant.

Upon her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court held that the evidence is not admissible in court because it was obtained by an illegal, warrantless search. This was an important case in criminal procedure in which the Supreme Court decided that evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against ‘unreasonable searches and seizures’ in state courts, as well as federal courts. (Mapp v. Ohio, 2012) The exclusionary rule has several exceptions that enable the evidence to be used in court, even though the evidence was obtained by an illegal, unreasonable search. Among these exceptions are the Inevitable Discovery Doctrine, Valid Independent Source, Harmless Error, and the Good Faith Exception. The Inevitable Discovery Doctrine is “Exception to the exclusionary rule deeming evidence admissible even if seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment when it can be shown that the evidence would have inevitably been discovered through lawful means”. (Harr, Hess, & Orthmann, 2008, p. 220). This doctrine allows evidence of a defendant’s guilt that would otherwise be inadmissible under the exclusionary rule to be admissible in court as evidence.

This exception was enacted by the U.S. Supreme Court in Nix v. Williams in 1984, where the officers that apprehended Williams coached him into revealing the area where the child’s body was placed prior to arrival at the police station. After the arrest was made, the officers convinced Williams to show them where he had placed the girl’s body on the way to the station. Williams eventually directed them to the site where she had been placed. In this case, the information was obtained illegally, depriving Williams of his right to counsel. However, it was decided that the information would have otherwise been legally obtained upon search by an independent search party. (Harr, Hess, & Orthmann, 2012) Another exception to the exclusionary rule is ‘Valid Independent Source’, which provides that “evidence that was obtained illegally should not be suppressed if that evidence is later acquired by a constitutionally valid search and seizure” (Independent Source, 2012). In Murray v. United States, it was held that evidence that was first observed during an illegal search but later recovered under a valid warrant is considered admissible in court as evidence.

In this case, the police initially entered the dwelling without a warrant but later returned with a valid warrant not using what they had observed during their first entry as reasonable probable cause for the warrant’s execution. In this situation, the evidence is considered admissible in court under the Valid Independent Source doctrine. (Murray v. United States, 2012) Harmless Error is “an exception to the exclusionary rule involving the admissibility of involuntary confessions and referring to instances in which the preponderance of the evidence suggests the defendant’s guilt and the tainted or illegal evidence is not critical to proving the case against the defendant” (Harr, Hess, & Orthmann, 2008, p. 222). The doctrine states that if admission of the evidence obtained in violation of the Constitution was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, the conviction will stand. In Arizona v. Fulminante (1991), the Court held that the harmless error doctrine is applicable to cases that involve involuntary confessions and their admissibility. Fulminante was accused of murdering his stepdaughter, but the murder could not be proven. During his incarceration for unrelated charges, he met Sarivola, another inmate, who later became an FBI informant.

Sarivola convinced Fulminante that he was being treated unfairly due to the rumor that he was a child killer. Sarivola agreed to protect Fulminante if he would tell him the truth about the murder; Fulminante confessed to the murder. At Fulminante’s trial, the defense claimed that the confession was coerced and involuntary and, therefore, the evidence should be suppressed. The prosecution claimed that the confession should be admissible on the harmless error doctrine. However, the Court ruled that the error was not harmless because it was likely to lead to the conviction of Fulminante. The confession was not admitted. (Harr, Hess, & Orthmann, 2012) The Good Faith Exception applies if “Officers are unaware that they are acting in violation of a suspect’s constitutional rights” (Harr, Hess, & Orthmann, 2008, p. 222). This exception to the exclusionary rule was first implemented in United States v. Leon (1984). “In United States v. Leon (1984), the Supreme Court specifically addressed the issue of whether the exclusionary rule should be modified so evidence obtained by an officer with a warrant later found to not be based on sufficient probable cause could still be used in court against the defendant at trial.” (Harr, Hess, & Orthmann, 2008, p. 223) These exceptions, discussed above, are subjected to abuse by governmental officials and/or police officers. Considering police ignorance regarding legal rules and standards as “just an honest mistake” can be relatively dangerous.

The courts may not always be able to distinguish “reasonable” or “honest” police misunderstandings of law from intentional disobedience and ignorance by officers. An officer’s claim that he was acting on “good faith” or by a “harmless error” cannot always necessarily be proven because there is no way to determine what the officer was thinking or his intentions. Realistically, it would be possible for an officer to abuse these exceptions by intentionally violating the defendant’s constitutional rights, but later claiming that he was acting on good faith and unaware that his actions were illegal and unconstitutional. Since the Court’s enactment of the Exclusionary Rule, there has been a statistically and economically increase in crime, ranging from a three (3) percent increase in larceny to a thirty (30) percent increase in assault.

According to the American Bar Association in 1988, between 0.2% and 0.8% of all adult felony cases are omitted by prosecutors due to evidence obtained by illegal searches. Approximately 0.6% to 2.35% of cases are lost because of an illegal search, as a cumulative figure. The percent of drug cases that are omitted for unlawful searches is 2.3%, with a cumulative loss ranging from 2.8% to 7.1%. The following are statistics of crime rates for jurisdictions forced by the Supreme Court’s ruling to exclude evidence: assaults increased by 16.5%, robbery by 7.3%, burglary by 6.0%, larceny by 3.8%, and auto theft by 4.3%. There was also a small but statistically insignificant increase in homicide rates. (Rubin, P, 1999)

I strongly agree with the implementation of the Exclusionary rule. I feel that the Constitutional rights that we are entitled to should be respected at all times. These Constitutional rights are not subject to discretion and cannot be altered or voided under any circumstance, including being suspected for involvement in criminal activity. If illegally-obtained evidence were admissible into court, then police officers would be more likely to ignore the suspect’s constitutional rights and would likely do so intentionally. I do, however, believe that there should be exceptions to the exclusionary rule. These exceptions are based on a determination that the modest amount of additional deterrence to be gained from excluding the evidence from trial is outweighed by the cost to society of excluding the evidence from trial. There are always cases where an officer may not be completely aware that their actions are illegal or unconstitutional and that they honestly believe that they acted on an honest and objectively reasonable belief in the legality of the search.


Boyd v. United States. (n.d.). The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved May 20, 2012, from Answers.com, Web site: http://www.answers.com/topic/boyd-v-united-states Boyd v. United States. (2012). CaseBriefs.com, Retrieved May 20, 2012, from http://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/criminal-procedure/criminal-procedure-keyed-to-kamisar/grand-jury-investigations/boyd-v-united-states-2/ Evaluation of the Exclusionary Rule (2011) Essortment.com, retrieved May 20, 2012 from http://www.essortment.com/evaluation-exclusionary-rule-50665.html Exclusionary Rule. (n.d.) West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. (2008). Retrieved May 20, 2012, from http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Exclusionary+Rule. Fourth Amendment (n.d.) Legal Information Institute, Retrieved May 20, 2012, from http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fourth_amendment

Harr J., Hess, K., Orthmann, C. (2012). Constitutional Law and the Criminal Justice System. Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Independent Source (2012) USLegal.com, Retrieved May 20, 2012, from http://definitions.uslegal.com/i/independent-source-rule/
Mapp v. Ohio (2012) Answers.com, retrieved May 20, 2012, from http://www.answers.com/topic/mapp-v-ohio

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