The exclusionary rule is one of the most controversial laws represented in the American Constitution. While it provides a remedy within the criminal procedure, it also contains some controversial elements (Alschuler, 2008). In fact, controversy on the rule arises from the notion that the rule allows the jury to refuse the consideration of relevant evidence in light of police misconduct during the process of acquiring the evidence in question. Proponents of the rule argue that it is an effective way of deterring constitutional violations. However, while the purpose of the rule is to protect the constitutional rights of the suspects, it places law enforcement personnel at an awkward position, a fact that is detrimental to the justice system.
The exclusionary rule is part of the law that came into effect during the Weeks v. United States case. According to Cox (2015), the creation of the exclusionary rule followed the need to have a remedy specifically designed to safeguard individual’s Fourth Amendment rights, which was viewed to be threatened by law enforcement personnel. As a safeguard, the exclusionary rule particularly works through its deterrent effect (Cox, 2015; Kinports, 2013). At the center of the exclusionary rule is a system of automatic and binary mechanism for the admission and non-admission of evidence, which is dependent on the desecration of an established constitutional measure. In essence, the system takes issue with the acquisition of the evidence, with disregard to notable injustice to the suspect, as well as the probative value of the evidence (Cox, 2015).
In the implementation of the exclusionary rule, there are different scenarios established over time, which fall under the protection of the rule. The application of the exclusionary rule includes evidence gained from arbitrary search and seizure, wrongly acquired self-incriminating statements, as well as the law enforcement officers’ (government) violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel (“Fourth Amendment”, 2016). At the core of the rule therefore is the protection of an individual’s rights as provided for in the Constitution.
The most important benefits of the exclusionary rule, as established by the Supreme Court ruling, is its protection of an individual’s constitutional rights. “Fourth Amendment” (2016) points to the protection of an individual’s Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights. In the absence of the rule, Kinports (2013) argues that it would be easy for law enforcement officers to violate an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights, knowing no consequence would befall them in operating unconstitutionally. According to Cox (2015), in establishing the rule, the courts effectively brought into force the “fruit-of-the-poisonous-tree doctrine,” which affirmed the need for a balance between law enforcement and protection of constitutional rights.
However, even in attempting to protect an individual’s constitutional rights, the rule has evident costs to the justice system. For instance, Alschuler (2008) argues that in establishing the rule, the courts provide a passage through which criminals can go free. Thus, if the courts dismiss all or part of the evidence concerning the rule, criminals can easily walk free, while the prosecution loses the case under such circumstances. It is worth noting that in relation to the rule, it largely offers a remedy to suspects on whom evidence is found. Such suspects are likely to be found guilty of the crimes they are accused of committing. However, the rule does not include/provide a remedy to other citizens on whom no evidence is found; therefore, they have a chance of having innocent verdicts.
The other cost of the rule is its lack of penalty or punishment for the police officers with the habit of harassing innocent civilians. Hence, while the rule’s intention is to discourage law enforcement personnel from committing the said violations in later days, it offers no punishment for the officers, even as the citizens ultimately face no prosecution. Moreover, the rule tends to encourage police perjury and aggressive policing that, in turn, undermines the operation of the rule.
Given the costs that the rule has to the justice system, there is a need to establish alternatives to the rule, which, while protecting the individuals’ constitutional provisions also allow the prosecution of the suspects. Remarkably, Alschuler (2008) submits that internal investigations and disciplinary actions against officers who violate the rule are one of the alternatives. Internal investigations have the ability to establish evidence against such officers and punish them accordingly in relation to the violation. Another alternative would be an effective tort remedy, aside from civil law suits against the violating officers. Alschuler (2008) argues that civil suits have the effect of deterring law enforcement officers from conducting a search through the fear of the prosecution and the costs if found guilty. More inclusive remedies that do not place a burden on the officers would therefore suffice, encouraging proper law enforcement procedures in obtaining evidence against suspected criminals.
At the establishment of the exclusionary rule, the courts envisioned the protection of individuals’ rights as provided for in the Constitution. However, the rule ultimately holds law enforcement officers at ransom, given the threat of civil suits. This is in addition to risking the release of criminals back into the streets. While the rule is well intentioned, it leaves many loop holes in the justice system. Thus, it is necessary to establish an alternative rule, particularly one that allows the admission of such evidence, especially when it has the potential of convicting a known felon.
Alschuler, A. W. (2008). Studying the exclusionary rule: An empirical classic. The University of Chicago Law Review, vol. 75(4), pp. 1365-1384. Retrieved from http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5243&context=journal_articles
Cox, A. M. (2015). Does it stay, or does it go?: Application of the good-faith exception when the warrant relied upon is a fruit of the poisonous tree. Washington and Lee Law Review, vol. 72(3), pp. 1505-1548. Retrieved from http://scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4471&context=wlulr
Fourth Amendment – exclusionary rule – deterrence costs and benefits – Utah v. strieff. (2016). Harvard Law Review, vol. 130(1), 337-346. Retrieved from http://harvardlawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/337-346_Online.pdf
Kinports, K. (2013). Culpability, deterrence, and the exclusionary rule. The William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, vol. 21(3), pp. 821-856. Retrieved from http://elibrary.law.psu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1169&context=fac_works