What Is the Exclusionary Rule?

The Exclusionary Rule

If you were charged with a crime and your case goes to trial, the exclusionary rule prevents any illegally obtained evidence from being presented in court. It was established as a way to deter law enforcement officers from conducting illegal searches of a person’s property and to ensure a defendant’s rights are protected. Your attorney must provide proof that the evidence was acquired in violation of your constitutional rights. If the trial court denies the motion to suppress illegally obtained evidence, and you are convicted, you may have a basis to appeal the court’s decision.

Protection from Unreasonable Search and Seizure

Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures of your personal property. This means that law enforcement officers must have a warrant to conduct a search. If an officer conducted a warrantless search and collected evidence in the process, they might have violated your constitutional rights.

An officer can also search your property if they have probable cause – reason to believe a crime is being or has been committed. For example, suppose an officer pulls you over for running a red light. During the traffic stop, they see drug paraphernalia in your backseat, and they ask you to step out of your vehicle so they can conduct a search. The officer’s search may be warranted because they saw something in your car suggesting a crime had been committed. However, the officer can’t look through your vehicle based on the initial reason for the traffic stop alone.

Exceptions to the Exclusionary Rule

As with many rules, there are exceptions to the exclusionary rule.

Based on the circumstances of the search, the court might decide that one of the following applies:

  • Good Faith Exception: This applies when an officer conducted a search based on a warrant that was later found to be invalid.
  • Attenuation Doctrine: According to this exception, if there is only a remote connection between the evidence and the unconstitutional way it was obtained, the item may be admissible.
  • Independent Source Doctrine: If evidence was initially obtained unlawfully and later acquired through a legal search, the court may deem it admissible.
  • Inevitable Discovery Doctrine: Similar to the independent source doctrine, this exception allows evidence to be admitted if the item would have been lawfully obtained under different circumstances.

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