Benefits and Pitfalls of the Exclusionary Rule

A legislative system of any state is implemented to ensure that people respect and observe the laws. However, the legislation of some developed countries, namely of the USA, is complicated and constantly modified. Therefore, it has many contradictory items, which complicate the juridical procedures and court cases and cause vast discussions among lawyers, judges and law enforcement officers. Their arguments result in numerous precedents, which give birth to new regulations. This paper focuses on the application of the exclusionary rule and its consequences and limitations, constitutional coercions and different types of evidence, which are considered valid for the investigation.

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The Exclusionary Rule and its Benefits

The scholars state that the exclusionary rule is the most controversial rule in the American legislative system (Del Carmen, 2013). It “provides that any evidence obtained by the government in violation of the Fourth Amendment guarantee against reasonable search and seizure is not admissible in a criminal prosecution to prove guilt” (Del Carmen, 2013, p. 91). The greatest contradiction that investigators face is whether it is possible to apply the exclusionary rule, if the Sixth, Seventh or some other Amendments are violated. The exclusionary rule is meant to protect the citizens from unlawful searches and ensure their inalienable right to privacy. Another important function of the Exclusionary rule is to prevent some forms of police misconduct (Del Carmen, 2013). It is possible to state that the benefits of the exclusionary rule include protection of the U.S. citizens from discrimination and illegal home invasions and, as a result, from unlawful actions of the police, as well as evidence fabrications (Del Carmen, 2013).

The Best Evidence Rule

The best evidence rule has a direct relation to the exclusionary rule. It prioritizes the original document as trial evidence over its copy, and the proof that this original is valid is the most significant in such case (Del Carmen, 2013). Nowadays a “copy” mostly means a “photocopy”, so its validity is easy to prove, if the original of a document is absent. It is possible to identify two methods of demonstrative evidence to illustrate the best evidence rule. The first of them is using a photograph of the original. It is accepted in the majority of the U.S. states (Peterson, 2010). The second method is demonstrating a videotape with a recorded crime to the jury: “Videotapes are admissible on the same basis as photographs” (Peterson, 2010, p. 2). Some possible scenarios for the mentioned demonstrative evidences may include the cases, when some accidental crime witnesses make photos of the event or a video camera is installed at the scene of a crime. Therefore, modern technological advances do not limit the best evidence rule to the originals of the documents, but expand it with the help of demonstrative evidence.

The “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” Doctrine

The “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine is connected to the exclusionary rule and states that “any evidence gathered as a result of an illegal search, even at a time later than the illegal search itself, will be excluded from evidence” (The exclusionary rule, 2007, para. 3). In order to avoid any evidentiary issue that would result in a “fruit of the poisonous tree” violation, the investigators should be aware of two significant exceptions to the discussed doctrine. These exceptions include the cases, when the police have some evidence on the case that does not originate from any illegal searches, or when the discovery of the evidence has been inevitable (“The exclusionary rule,” 2007). The scenarios to illustrate these cases include the following situations: (1) the police illegally searches B’s storehouse and finds some documents, which prove that he is a bank cards’ fraudster. This evidence will become admissible only, if the police will receive these files by e-mail from their informant; (2) the police perform an illegal search of M’s house and find a map that shows how to reach a marihuana field. This marihuana field is located close to some food plant and the workers of this plant inform the police of this fact. In such a case, the evidence discovery is inevitable. If the lawyers try to prove that the evidence primarily received during the illegal search is valid, it will be the violation of the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine and will result in numerous trial contradictions about the violation of the Fourth Amendment. Moreover, as a probable ramification, the suspects will accuse the investigators of the evidence falsification and the violation of their rights to privacy, which will complicate the court process and will make the judge to assume the entire responsibility for the decision.

The Christian Burial Speech

The notion of “the Christian burial speech” is related to the case of Fewer v. Williams. The essence of the case consisted in the fact that while transporting Robert Williams, who sexually assaulted and killed a ten-year-old girl, from Davenport to Des Moines, detective Learning promised not to interrogate him (Standler, 2010). However, “Detective Learning gave what is now called the ‘Christian burial speech’ to Williams. During the transport, William showed the detective the location of the victim’s body” (Standler, 2010, p. 3). The greatest displeasure of the courts is caused by the contradictions of this case: on the one hand, the evidence received during the transport can be subject to the exclusionary rule. On the other hand, the girl’s corpse, found in the indicated place can be excluded under “the fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine (Standler, 2010). The case may have an impact on other serious cases in the long run, as it may cast discredit on the police ethics, start a vast discussion about which evidence can be considered admissible and force the judge to exercise his sole discretion to make a decision.

The Shocking the Conscience of the Court Test

The “shocking the conscience of the court test” was first introduced in 1952 in Rochin v. California case. Based on the Fourteenth amendment’s protection of a person’s right to life, liberty and property, “the test prohibits conduct by state agents that falls outside the standards of civilized decency” (“Shock-the-conscience test,” n. d., para. 1). This test is not as widely applied as it is criticized for giving the judges a chance to individually assess what is “shocking” for the court. The types of behavior that may result in the application of the test are aggressive, cruel or inhuman actions of the law enforcement officers, which violate the natural rights of people (“Shock-the-conscience test,” n. d.). A scenario to demonstrate the described behavior may be an imaginary case, when a police officer applies some excessive force and physical violence to a person, who he thinks has committed a murder.

Coercions of the Constitution

The courts apply certain tests to prove that the governmental actions do not violate the Constitution of the USA and its Amendments. This paper focuses on the Establishment clause of the First Amendment (Test used, 2009). A test applied in this case is a coercion test. “Under this test, government actions would be deemed constitutional unless they (1) provided direct aid to religion in a way that tended to establish a state church; or (2) coerced people to support or participate in religion against their will” (“Tests used,” 2009, para. 4). In the mentioned cases, the decisions that contradict the Establishment clause, which prevents the Congress from issuing any documents in terms of establishment of religion, are clear violations of the Constitution. The religious freedom is violated and the behaviors, which force others to participate in some religious rituals and actions and promote the establishment of a new church, are considered coercions.

The Liabilities of the Exclusionary Rule

The liabilities of the exclusionary rule originate from the exclusionary rule violations, mentioned above. Those people, who have been illegally searched or arrested, usually have the right to a tort action. The legislation dictates that the police officers, who violated the Fourth Amendment, are subject to suit and bear civil liability or in rare cases criminal responsibility (Del Carmen, 2013). The errors that the officers may commit in terms of the exclusionary rule are purely technical, when the confirmation of a search warrant is registered in their database but, factually, it is not issued. The police officers may conduct a search based on the good faith in this case. It is his/her individual belief that their actions have good intentions and are performed according to the existing warrant (“The exclusionary rule,” 2007). The ramifications, which result from these errors, can be both positive and negative. If the good faith is proved, the evidence will be admitted and used in the trial. If it is not proved, a police officer or a group of them will bear civil responsibility for illegal actions and possible evidence fabrication.

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Conclusions and Recommendations

To conclude, it is important to state that in spite of all the contradictions caused by the exclusionary rule, it has the right to exist to protect the inalienable rights of the American citizens. It gave birth to the “fruits of the poisonous tree” doctrine, the shocking conscience of the court tests and initiated an important discussion about the constitutional coercions. All these juridical concepts have a purpose to protect the natural freedoms of the citizens and prevent any illegal actions of the law enforcement officers. Hopefully, the application of the exclusionary rule will be better regulated and it will reach its main purpose.

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