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Exclusionary Rule

Exclusionary Rule

The exclusionary rule was implemented to protect the constitutional rights of American citizens. Read more about this rule and find out why it was implemented.
Sujata Iyer
The United States Constitution has bestowed upon its citizens certain inalienable rights. Being a democracy, the most important of these rights is the right to freedom. As per law, no individual's freedom to speak his mind, follow his own religion, do what he wants to when he wants to do it, can be compromised by another. No one has the right to challenge or misuse the freedom handed to him by the US Constitution. Not even the law enforcement officials themselves. Thus was born the Exclusionary Rule. This rule protects the right of even people who are on trial for criminal activities. Read further to know more about the exclusionary rule definition and its exceptions.

What is the Exclusionary Rule?

As per the United States law, "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" is called the Exclusionary Rule.

If you go through law terms pertaining to the United States, you will know that 'evidence' is the word used for any tangible or intangible information used to either prove true or false, a particular allegation made in a court of law. Till the 1900's, the practice of using any type of evidence, procured using any means, by law enforcement officials was admissible in court. However, with the Exclusionary Rule, this changed. It was noticed that law enforcers were misusing the power that the government had meted out to them, in order to gather evidence against defendants of criminal cases. Hence, the Exclusionary Rule was drafted to safeguard the rights of the defendant as per the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment protects any citizen from unreasonable searches and seizures by anyone serving in the government. As per this rule, any evidence that is gathered by thwarting the Fourth Amendment rights of the defendant, is inadmissible in court. For instance, if police officers search the house of the defendant in the absence of the defendant and without a warrant, then any evidence gathered by them in the course of the search will be inadmissible in court and excluded from the trial. However, if the warrant is issued, but has lost its validity by the time the house was searched in the absence of the defendant, then the evidence is admissible provided the official copy of the warrant has an affidavit attached, proclaiming that it is a valid warrant.

Exceptions to the Rule

As the old adage goes, innocent until proven guilty, the defendant cannot be declared guilty by anyone but a court magistrate. There are some exceptions to the exclusionary rule that are in conformity with the Bill of Rights given by the Constitution. They are as follows.

Independent Source Doctrine: This exception states that if during the course of the investigation, the law enforcers come across some evidence through a source 'independent' of the investigating team and then uses this evidence as grounds to return with a warrant to seize the official records of the same evidence, then this evidence is permitted to be used during the trial.

Inevitable Discovery Doctrine: According to this exception, the evidence is seized twice. Out of these two times, the actual physical seizing happens only once. Meaning, if a piece of evidence is seized illegally, but it is proved that the same evidence would have been seized in the near future because the evidence was found in the vicinity of the area under investigation, then this evidence is allowed to be used.

For example, a source informs a team of investigators that they can find documents proving a financial fraud committed by Mr. X in his desk drawer. The team seizes the documents without a warrant. But they prove to the court that since Mr. X was suspected of fraud, his desk would eventually have been checked and the documents would have been discovered anyway. They also have to prove that the documents were seized to prevent them from being hidden or destroyed. Such documents can be used as evidence against Mr. X.

Good Faith: According to this exception, if the police has received a warrant and acted upon it to obtain evidence against the defendant, but later it is discovered that the warrant was faulty or defective in some manner, the evidence is still admissible. This is because the fault was an 'honest mistake' and the official acted within reason and in good faith. He did not in any way violate the constitutional rights of the defendant and so the evidence seized by him can be used in court.

The Exclusionary Rule came into practice only in the 1900's after many cases showed that the level of misuse and misconduct of government authority to obtain evidence in criminal cases was steadily on the rise. The exceptions were introduced in 1984 and there have been suitable amendments made to the rule and its exceptions from time to time.