The Exclusionary Rule


The Exclusionary Rule Essay, Research Paper

The Exclusionary Rule

The Effect of the Fourth Amendment is to put the

courts of the United States and Federal officials, in the

exercise of their own power and authority, under

limitations and restraints as to the exercise of such power

and authority, and to forever secure the people, their

persons, houses, papers and effects against all

unreasonable searches and seizures under the guise of law

(Ronald 605). The Constitution does not tolerate

warrantless, therefore illegal, police searches and

seizures–unless there is probable cause. The rights which

the Fourth Amendment states were strengthened when the

Supreme Court preceded the Exclusionary Rule, and

therefore, the rights of the people were strengthened as


The Exclusionary Rule, first preceded in 1914, is

the understanding, based on Supreme Court precedent, that

incriminating information must be seized according to

constitutional specifications of due process, or it will

not be allowed as evidence (Schmalleger 273). Even the

guilty have a right to claim innocence. Hence, this right

would be worthless if incriminating evidence was allowed to

be obtained, distributed, and used illegally. Furthermore,

according to the Supreme Court, “If letters and private

documents can thus be seized and held and used in evidence

against a citizen accused of an offense, the protection of

the Fourth Amendment declaring his right to be sure against

such searches and seizures is of no value, and, so for as

those thus placed are concerned, might as well be stricken

from the Constitution” (Ronald 605). If that “tainted

violence” can be used in court, then the 4th Amendment

offers no real protection to a person accused of a crime

(Magruder 524). The exclusionary rule was intended to put

teeth into the 4th Amendment, and it has (Magruder 524).

The Court further built upon the rules concerning

evidence in 1918, with the Fruit of the Poisoned Tree

Doctrine-a legal principle which excludes from introduction

at trial any evidence later developed as a result of an

originally illegal search or seizure (Schmalleger 274).

The Fruit of the Poisoned Tree Doctrine was enforced after

the case of Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States in

1918. Frederick Silverthorne and his sons were accused of

avoiding payment on federal taxes. They were asked to hand

over their company’s books. The Silverthornes refused,

citing their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-

incrimination (Schmalleger 274). Shortly thereafter, some

federal agents ignored their rights and without warrant,

seized the wanted books anyway. Since this was an

unconstitutional act, the Silverthorne’s lawyer testified

and asked for the books to be returned. The prosecutor

granted his request, and the books were returned.

Expecting all incriminating evidence to have

descended, the Silverthornes where testified in trial.

Much to their surprise, however, the prosecution had made

photocopies of the books they seized, and used them as

evidence against the Silverthornes. Hence, they were

convicted in federal court. They appealed their conviction

and their appeal reached the Supreme Court. The Court

ruled that just as illegally seized evidence cannot be used

in a trial, neither can evidence be used which derives from

an illegal seizure (Schmalleger 274). The conviction of

the Silverthornes was overturned and they were set free.

The illegal evidence reproduced from materials obtained by

an illegal seizure dismissed the whole case because the

prosecutors did not follow the Fruit of the Poisoned Tree

Doctrine. “Think of it this way: If you have a box full

of apples, and then you put a rotten one in the bunch, they

will all become rotten at some point. Hence, all the

evidence–fruit–obtained from an illegal mean–poisoned

tree–is not admissible even if the evidence itself is

good” (G mez interview). Even if a case is developed on

years of police research, it may be dejected if that

research and the evidence it revealed was obtained


Like the Constitution, however, the exclusionary

rule is not written in stone. It can be amended and

exceptions can be installed to it. In the case of United

Sates v. Leon in 1984, the exclusionary rule was first

modified with “the good faith exception to the exclusionary

rule.” This exception states that law enforcement officers

who conduct a search, or seize evidence, on the basis of

good faith (that is, where they believe they are operating

according to the dictates of the law) and who later

discover that a mistake was made (perhaps in the format of

the application for a search warrant) may still use, in

court, evidence seized as the result of such activities

(Schmalleger 277). In the Leon case, the officers involved

acted upon probable cause, a legal criterion residing in a

set facts and circumstances which would cause a reasonable

person to believe that a particular other person has

committed a specific crime (Schmalleger 277). The suspect,

Leon, was accused of trafficking drugs. He was placed

under surveillance, which showed evidence of large amounts

of hidden drugs. This lead the investigators to apply for

a search warrant. They believed that they were in

compliance with the Fourth Amendment requirement that “no

warrants shall issue but upon probable cause” (Schmalleger

277). Although Leon was convicted of drug trafficking, a

later ruling in a federal district court resulted in the

suppression of evidence against him on the basis that the

original affidavit, or document demonstrating the probable

cause, prepared by the police had not, in the opinion of

the court, been sufficient to establish probable cause

(Schmalleger 277). Shortly after, the government

petitioned the Supreme Court to decide if the evidence

gathered by the officers may still be admissible in trial.

The Court decided: “When law enforcement officers have

acted in objective good faith or their transgressions have

been minor, the magnitude of the benefit conferred on such

guilty defendants offends basic concepts of the criminal

justice system” (Schmalleger 277). Due to this, Leon’s

conviction was reinstated.

It is no doubt that over the past few decades more

and more justice agencies have become dependent upon

computer technology for record management and other

purposes (Schmalleger 282). Hence, the likelihood of

computer-generated errors will vastly grow When this trend

continues. Computer-generated errors have become the base

of another exception to the exclusion rule, the “computer

errors exception.” It was first created in the 1995 case

of Arizona v. Evans. Mr. Isaac Evans was stopped for

driving the wrong way on a one-way street. With a computer

check reporting an outstanding arrest warrant, he was taken

into custody. Shortly after, Evans was convicted due to

the police finding marijuana in his car. After his arrest,

however, police learned that the arrest warrant reported to

them by their computer had actually been quashed a few

weeks earlier but, through the clerical oversight of a

court employee, had never been removed form the computer

(Schmalleger 282). The Court later decided that the

officers who made the arrest cannot be held accountable for

their unintentional disobedience of the exclusionary rule.

They were simply acting in good faith according to the

information that was provided to them at the time. Isaac

Evans was convicted nonetheless.

The Supreme Court’s articulation of the

exclusionary rule came in Weeks v. United States, 1914.

This was the first landmark case concerning search and

seizure and it changed to Fourth Amendment forever. The

defendant, Mr. Freemont Weeks, was convicted for selling

lottery tickets through the US Postal Service. The

evidence against him included various letters and documents

that had been seized from his house during a warrantless

search (Ronald 604). When Weeks moved for a return of the

property due to the violation of the Fourth Amendment in

the officers’ part, only the non-incriminating evidence was

given back. Hence, Weeks was convicted. However, shortly

after, he appealed his conviction and it reached the

Supreme Court. There, his lawyer reasoned that if some of

his client’s belongings had been illegally seized, then the

remainder of them were also taken improperly (Schmalleger

273). The Supreme Court reversed: “The United States

Marshal could only have invaded the house of the accused

when armed with a warrant issued as required by the

Constitution, upon sworn information and describing with

reasonable particularity the thing for which the search was

to be made. Instead, he acted without sanction of law,

doubtless prompted by the desire to bring further proof to

the aid of the Government, and under solor of his office

undertook to make a seizure of private papers in direct

violation of the constitutional prohibition against such

action. Under such circumstances, without sworn

information and particular description, not even an order

of court would have justified such procedure, much less was

it within the authority of the United States Marshal to

thus invade the house and privacy of the accused” (Ronald

605). The Court held that the seizure of items from Week’s

residence directly violated his constitutional rights and

that the government’s refusal to return Week’s possessions

violated the Fourth Amendment (Oyez). Thus, the Supreme

Court overturned Week’s earlier convictions and the

exclusionary rule was established.

However, the Weeks case made the exclusionary rule

pertinent to only the federal government. It was not until

Mapp v. Ohio that it also became applicable to the States.

Miss Mapp and her daughter by a former marriage lived on

the floor of the two-family dwelling (Case 1). Police

officers had been on her trail because she was suspected of

obscuring, in her house, a man wanted for information on a

recent bombing, and for the possession of lewd books and

pictures, which was unconstitutional (Supreme 1081).

When the officers insisted on entering her home for

investigation, she refused, asking them to get a warrant

first. The officers advised their headquarters of the

situation and undertook surveillance of the house (Case

1). Some three hours later, a larger amount of officers

arrived at the scene. When they asked her to come out once

again and she repeatedly refused, one of the doors in her

house was forcibly opened and the policemen commenced their

illegal search in the house. Miss Mapp’s lawyer arrived

shortly after but the officers, having secured their own

entry and continuing their defiance of the law, would

permit him neither to see Miss Mapp not to enter the house

(Case 1).

Miss Mapp continued to protest this illegal act and

demanded to see the search warrant. One of the officers

help up a fake one, which was snatched from his hand by her

and placed in her bosom. As a result, there was a big

struggle and she was handcuffed. Afterwards, she was

forced upstairs where the investigators searched her

closets, dressers, rooms, the rest of the second floor,

the child’s room, the living room, the kitchen, and a

dinette. During that widespread and illegal search, the

materials which she was suspected of holding were found,

and she was convicted.

Prior decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court had led

officers to expect that the exclusionary rule did not apply

to agents of state and local law enforcement (Schmalleger

275). Nonetheless, Mapp’s conviction was overturned by the

precedent-setting decision that the officers were acting

against the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee that the

exclusionary rule should be applicable to the States:

“…nor shall any State deprive any person of life,

liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor deny

to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection

of the laws.” (Schmalleger 275). The majority court’s

opinion, as Mr. Justice Black states, was that the

constitutional basis of the rule announced by the Court in

the present case was the Fourth Amendment s ban against

unreasonable searches and seizures considered together with

the Fifth Amendment’s ban against compelled self-

incrimination (Supreme 1081). Thus, the exclusionary rule

was made applicable to the States.

The exclusionary rule’s precedent brought forth two

argumentative problems, however. One of these problems if

that the present appeals system, focusing as it does upon

the “rules of the game,” presents a ready-made channel for

the guilty to go free (Schmalleger 273). “If you think

about it, the evidence needed to prove a person guilty of a

crime is, to my understanding, enough the confirm the

person’s culpability, and that person should be punished

nonetheless. It shouldn’t matter whether or not the

arresting officer(s) acted unconstitutionally, in which

case, both the criminal and the officer both should be

punished. A person’s “guilt” can never be decreased

because of the misconduct of another (G mez interview).

Weeks, Mapp, and the Silverthornes are all examples

of this problem. The evidence used to incriminate them,

whether obtained legally or illegally, prove that they are

guilty of disobeying the law in one way or another. Even

if the police knowingly violate the principles of due

process, which they sometimes do, our sense of justice is

compromised When the guilty go free (Schmalleger 273).

As police officers, it is their duty to make sure

that the guilty are punished. The exclusionary rule

somewhat gets in the way of this responsibility. Of course

officers should not take advantage and act recklessly, “but

desperate times do call for desperate measures (G mez


Despite these problems, the exclusionary rules has

obviously had some positive effects and changes on

society. The Fourth Amendment is a very important and

critical one in maintaining citizens’ property and privacy

theirs and the exclusionary rule has established real value

to it. The Exclusionary Rule has been justified in part on

the ground that it is essential to prevent the fourth

amendment from becoming “a form of words, valueless and

undeserving of mention in a perpetual charter of

inestimable human liberties” (Ronald 604).

Also, the Weeks, Mapp, and Silverthorne cases are

all examples of the exclusionary rules protection against

police misconduct. “Just because they’re the boys in blue

does not mean that they can be the boys who abuse (G mez

interview).” As an American citizen, and thanks to the

exclusionary rule, one has the right to object against

illegal searches and seizures. The exclusionary rule

defends this.

In conclusion, the exclusionary rule totally

revolutionized the power and rights against invasion of

privacy and police misconduct. Whether criminal or non-

criminal, guilty or innocent, American citizens have the

right to not have themselves, or their property illegally

searched or seized.

Works Cited

Court Cases [online]. Available at

FindLaw Search Engine [online]. Available at

G mez, Paola. Personal Interview. 7 Dec., 1998

Magruder, Frank A. American Government. New

Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1993: 524-525

Oyez Oyez Oyez: Weeks v. United States – Abstract

[online]. Available at


Ronald J. Allen, Richard B. Kuhns,

William J. Stuntz. Constitutional Criminal

Procedure. An Examination of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth

Amendments and Related Areas. Third Ed. Canada: Little,

Brown & Company, 1995

Supreme Court Reporter, The. Lawyer’s Edition:


Schmalleger, Frank. Criminal Justice Today. An

Introductory Text for the 21st Century. Ed. 5 New Jersey:

Prentice Hall, 1999: 272-293

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