The exclusionary rule is judicially created rule requiring the exclusion of evidence from use during a criminal trial when the evidence was obtained in violation of the 4th Amendment. The 4th Amendment protects United States citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures and provides the general requirements for obtaining a warrant. The 4th Amendment was conceived as a result of Britain’s improper seizure of Americans and their goods and as a result, it functions as a check on governmental powers.
What Purpose Does it Serve?
The exclusionary rule primarily operates as a deterrent for law enforcement. The idea is that a police officer will not conduct an illegal search or seizure if the officer is aware that the evidence will be unusable in court. Instead, the police officer will take the appropriate steps to either secure a warrant or confirm that probable cause exists. Additionally, the rule encourages precincts to conduct more comprehensive officer training because a precinct whose officers repeatedly violate the 4th Amendment may open itself up to civil liability.
Since the purpose of the exclusionary rule is to deter police misconduct, there is a “good faith” exception to the exclusionary rule. This exception allows evidence that was recovered in violation of the 4th Amendment if the violation was made in “good faith.” For example, if an officer knowingly provides inaccurate facts to a magistrate while obtaining a warrant that produces evidence, the exclusionary rule requires that the evidence be suppressed. On the other hand, if the officer believed that the facts were true at the time he spoke with the magistrate and only later determined that he was mistaken, then the exclusionary rule does not require that the evidence be suppressed. This is because the rule does not deter the police officer that acts in good faith.
Why is it Controversial?
The exclusionary rule is extremely controversial. Proponents of the rule argue that it is necessary to protect American’s right to privacy and provide an important check on the ever-growing police powers. Critics argue that the exclusionary rule is simply a technicality that hampers law enforcement by allowing criminals to go free on a “technicality.”
Furthermore, the exclusionary rule is not found within the four corners of the Constitution. Rather, it is a judicially created rule intended to capture the spirit of the constitution. More conservative legal thinkers argue that the judiciary has no place writing the rules but rather exists solely to interpret. Under this view, the decision to exclude would be left for Congress to draft in statute.