Legal Evolution Of The Exclusionary
Rule Essay, Research Paper
of the United States was designed to protect citizens’ civil rights
from infringement by the government and law enforcement agencies. The
Constitution guarantees that the civil liberties of the people of
this country shall be respected and upheld. That fact is often
considered to be common knowledge and taken for granted by the vast
majority of the population. However it was not always that way.
American legislation is constantly growing and developing. New rules
and practices are being developed and established. The exclusionary
rule is considered to be the most vital to the protection of civil
rights. The exclusionary rule is represented by the Fourth Amendment
of the Constitution and it guarantees that illegally obtained
evidence shall not be used against the accused. The history of the
development of the exclusionary rule is one of the most fascinating
examples of American legal evolution.
Amendment is believed to be one the cornerstones of the Constitution.
It protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures, sets
the framework for the warrant rule, and introduces the concept of
probable cause into police procedures. The significance of the Fourth
Amendment is difficult to overestimate. The warrant rule initiated a
giant leap forward in the progress of democracy by abolishing the
“general warrant” practice and restricting the invasion of
privacy that citizens can be subjected to. The police can no longer
engage into “fishing expeditions” against suspicious individuals
and prosecute them based on the evidence obtained in direct violation
of the Constitution. However, the exclusionary rule had a long
history before it could adequately protect citizens. The rule met
strong opposition from police officials and even some Supreme Court
Justices before it became a valid legislation capable of providing
adequate protection for citizens.
overwhelming significance of the rights protected and guaranteed by
the Fourth Amendment, many questions and concerns existed regarding
police and court procedures and practices. The most important of
those questions was whether or not illegally obtained evidence could
be used in courts. Before 1914, any evidence obtained by the police
could be used in both Federal and State courts, regardless of any
constitutional violations that might have taken place during the
search and seizure of that evidence. Such practice has spawned
multiple occurrences of police misconduct. Before that date, many
police officers did not follow constitutional requirements. They
could freely search individuals and households and seize evidence
without appropriate warrants. Needless to say, that such poor
performance resulted in illegal arrests and unjust prosecutions of
innocent people. One of such cases had become a landmark and
initiated the long process of reforms in regard to the Fourth
Amendment and police conduct. The Supreme Court articulation of the
exclusionary rule has come in Weeks v. United States case in 1914.
That case has changed the Fourth Amendment and related laws forever.
The defendant, Mr. Freemont Weeks was convicted based on the evidence
illegally seized from him during the warrantless search. The appeal
was initiated by the defense attorney, thus bringing the case to the
attention of the highest Court. The United States Supreme Court
overturned his conviction and stated that the evidence obtained
illegally cannot be used in court. However, Weeks v. United States
made the exclusionary rule applicable to the federal government only.
rule as per Weeks was intended to create a powerful tool of deterring
police misconduct and reinforcing the Fourth Amendment. In 1918, a
new doctrine was introduced to supplement the exclusionary rule. The
Fruit of the Poisonous Tree became a first legal principle, which
deemed inadmissible to court any evidence that was developed or
obtained based on illegal search and seizure. The Fruit of the
Poisonous Tree doctrine was first introduced in Silverstone Lumber Co
v. United States, a tax evasion case where federal agents presented
photocopies of illegally seized documentation as evidence against the
defendant. However, the doctrine was also designed to be applicable
only to the federal government. Questions about the introduction of
“tainted” evidence in state courts did not arise for another 35
On June 24, 1949
the Supreme Court passed a ruling upholding the conviction of Dr.
Julius Wolf who had been convicted of conspiring to commit abortions.
The Wolf v. Colorado case was admitted to become a “good case law”
thus becoming another important step on a long road to justice. At
that time, only 17 states decided to follow the “Weeks principle”
and prohibit the acceptance of illegally seized evidence. Justice
Felix Frankfurter stated, “… granting that in the practice the
exclusion of evidence may be an effective way of deterring
unreasonable searches, it is not for this court to condemn… a
state’s reliance upon other methods which, if consistently
enforced, would be equally effective…” (Wolf v. Colorado,
http://oyez.nwu.edu). Despite the visible progress, some states were
still free to employ “fishing expeditions” in seizing the
Two and a half
years later, on January 17, 1952 the Supreme Court was faced with a
new case involving the Fourth Amendment and the exclusionary rule.
This time, police misconduct was so outrageous and shocking that
Justices were forced to overturn the conviction. The case of Rochin
v. California involved three deputy sheriffs who searched Mr.
Rochin’s dwelling without a warrant. The deputies observed the
defendant swallow two pills. Mr. Rochin was taken to the hospital
where the physician pumped the defendant’s stomach and recovered
two pills of morphine. The Supreme Court ruled that evidence
inadmissible because of the gross violation of defendant’s Fourth
Amendment rights. Commenting on the case, Justice Felix Frankfurter
stated “This is conduct that shocks the conscience…, methods too
close to the rack and screw…”(Galloway, 130). Rochin v.
California was ruled to be in violation of the Fourth Amendment and
the due process clause within the Fourteenth Amendment. That case was
yet another step towards the development of new regulations to shield
citizens from police brutality. It also occurred to the courts that
new measures to curb and punish police misconduct were desperately
needed. During the Rochin case the Supreme Court has introduced a new
concept called the “shock of conscience”.
The next case of
Irvine v. California was examined on February 8, 1954. The violations
of the defendant’s rights were obvious. However, because of
political pressures, the Court upheld the prior decision of the state
court. The case involved electronic eavesdropping and even though the
violations were clear, the Supreme Court did not apply the “shock
of conscience” concept. However, Justice Frankfurter dissented and
voted for the exclusion of the tainted evidence. Justice William O.
Douglas also dissented and called for the application of the
exclusionary rule to the states. Another similar case, Breithaupt v.
Abram (1957), arose three years later and was upheld for the lack of
police “brutality” and “coercion” (Galloway, 130). Again, the
“shock of conscience” clause was deemed not applicable.
Forty-three years had passed since the landmark Weeks decision, but
very little progress could be seen in the enforcement of the
exclusionary rule in the majority of the states. Police misconduct
continued to create public outrage and protest.
On June 16, 1961
the Court was presented with a new case. The defendant, Ms. Mapp and
her daughter opposed the unlawful seizure of lewd books and pictures
that were found by the police during an unwarranted search of her
residence. During the initial encounter with police officers, who
attempted to search her dwelling, Ms. Mapp requested to see the
search warrant. After she was shown an obviously fake document she
protested the illegal search and was handcuffed. Later, during the
trial, the prosecution did not present a valid warrant and did not
explain the absence of one. Ms. Mapp was convicted based on the
tainted evidence (Nagel, 46). Nevertheless, the U.S. Supreme Court
overturned her conviction by the precedent-setting ruling that the
police officers were acting in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The
majority of the court decided that from then onwards, the
exclusionary rule shall apply to all states as prescribed by the
ruling of the Mapp case created unprecedented controversy in the
legal community. Many experts voiced their opinions opposing the
mandatory application of the exclusionary rule and the Fruit of the
Poisonous Tree doctrine to the states. Several problems were
identified and argued by the courts. Some professionals argued that
the exclusionary rule created a safe route for criminals to go
unpunished. They stated that, if the evidence is sufficient enough to
convict a suspect, it should not matter if that evidence was obtained
in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Another opinion stated that if
the evidence is tainted, the law enforcement officer has to suffer
penalties but the evidence should be admitted and the conviction
upheld. Americans for Effective Law Enforcement and the International
Association of Chiefs of Police recommended modifying the
exclusionary rule so that it should only be applied in cases where
“willful, flagrant and substantial violations of search and seizure
procedures” are present (Klotter, 25)
continued as experts attempted to identify the true purpose of the
exclusionary rule. According to some experts, the exclusionary rule
within the scope of the Fourth Amendment serves to protect citizens’
privacy and ensures the security of their property and possessions
from unreasonable and unlawful intrusion by the government. On the
other hand, the exclusionary rule is considered to be a legislative
tool designed to curb police brutality and misconduct. As Justice
Benjamin Cardozo put it, “the criminal is to go free because the
constable has blundered” (Epstein, 413)
Similar to the
Constitution, the exclusionary rule is not etched in stone, leaving
room for new amendments and revisions. In the case of Leon v. United
States in 1984, the “good faith” exception has been added to the
exclusionary rule. That exception refers to law enforcement officials
who conduct a lawful search and seizure on the basis of good faith,
and later discover that a mistake was made in the issuance of the
warrant; the seized evidence may still me used in trial.
problems, issues, and exceptions associated with the exclusionary
rule it has undoubtedly had enormous positive influence on the legal
climate in the nation. The Fourth Amendment is critical to
maintaining citizens’ privacy and property, and the exclusionary
rule has reinforced it. The exclusionary rule has prevented the
Fourth Amendment from becoming, “ a form of words, valueless and
undeserving of mention in a perpetual chapter of inestimate human
liberties” (Ronald, 604). The rule completely reshaped and
revolutionized the legal approach to the protection of citizens’
Hess, Karen. (1999). Criminal Investigation 5th Edition. New York. An
International Thomson Publishing Company.
Nagel S. Stuart.
(1972). The Rights of the Accused. Beverly Hills, London.
Klotter C. John,
Kanovitz R. Jaqueline. (1973). Constitutional Law for Police. 2nd
(1973). The Supreme Court and the Rights of the Accused. New York,
NY. Facts on File Inc.,
Segal A. Jeffrey, Speath J. Harold, Walker G. Thomas. (1996). The
Supreme Court Compendium. 2nd edition. Washington DC Congressional
Weddle H. Garry. (1999). A Summary of U.S. Supreme Court Decisions
for the Criminal Justice Community. NY. Looseleaf Law Publications
Ferdico N. John.
(1999). Criminal Procedures for the Criminal Justice Professional 7th
Edition. New York An International Thomson Publishing Company,
Mapp v. Ohio
case abstract. [online] http://oyes.nwu.edu/cases
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