The Exclusionary Rule – A Case Study

The supreme court of the United States of America enforces the exclusionary rule in state and federal court proceedings if the evidence presented before the court fits the description of four major types of violations which are; search and seizures that are in violation of the rights enshrined in the fourth amendment, confessions that have been obtained by law enforcement officers by utilizing methods that violate the fifth and sixth amendments, testimony obtained through violation of these three amendments, evidence obtained through methods that are incredibly shocking and violate the due process of law. The enforcement of this rule, often through a motion to suppress, makes the evidence specified by the motion, inadmissible in state and federal court and often results in the dismissal of the charges, whose inclusion, was based on the recovery of this evidence (Spiotto, 1973).

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The most frequent occasion that warrants the application of this rule is in cases involving police search and seizure. The effect of the enforcement of this rule is that it prohibits the inclusion of evidence that was obtained by law enforcement officers in a method that violates the individual’s constitutional rights. Law enforcement conduct during the process of obtaining the evidence is questioned and if their methods were improper and/ or the search conducted was not done in presence of a warrant or supported by probable cause the evidence thus obtained is rendered inadmissible.

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In the case of Mapp v Ohio, the police arrived at Mapp’s residence, knocked on her door, were asked for a warrant and when they failed to produce one they retreated and continued watching the house from across the street. After several hours, more law enforcement arrived at the residence, forced the door open and presented Mapp with a ‘warrant’ that they forcibly recovered from her person and were unable to present at the hearing. They searched the house and found illegal paraphernalia, Mapp was arrested but subsequently cleared on a misdemeanor. Several months later she was charged with being in possession of pornographic books that the police had also recovered from her residence. She was prosecuted in a state court and found guilty. She made an appeal to the supreme court which overturned the decision, with 6-3 in favour, on the grounds that; the police had no probable cause to search her residence, the evidence presented was obtained without a warrant and was therefore illegal and the conduct of law enforcement at the time of the search and seizure was in violation of the fourth amendment. This decision bound state courts to exclude evidence obtained in violation of the 4th amendment (Katz, 1966).

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In the case of Weeks v United States, law enforcement officers went to Weeks’ house and were given information regarding the whereabouts of his key by a neighbour, they entered the premises without a warrant, performed a search and proceeded to seize papers and articles which they gave to the United States Marshalls. The officers returned in the company of the Marshalls and again without a warrant searched the house and seized letters and envelopes. They then presented this evidence in court in order to convict Weeks of using the mail to transport lottery tickets. The court ruled in favour of weeks on the grounds that; the seizure of items from a private residence was in direct violation of the right against unnecessary search and seizure as specified by the fourth amendment. This ruling prevented police from securing evidence by means previously prohibited by the exclusionary rule and sharing said evidence with federal colleagues (Weeks v United States, 1914)

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In the case of Rochin v California, deputy Sheriffs entered Rochin’s residence without a warrant, proceeded to his room where they spotted capsules on his nightstand before Rochin quickly swallowed the capsules. One of the officers grabbed him by the neck, squeezed it and attempted to induce him to vomit by putting two fingers down his throat. When these attempts failed, they took him to a hospital where they instructed a doctor to administer an emetic. Rochin vomited the capsules into the bucket and this evidence was then used to convict him upon the discovery that he had swallowed morphine. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Rochin and added a specification to the exclusionary rule that incorporated the exclusion of evidence obtained by a process that is so shocking that it violates the due process of law (Rochin v California, 1952). The effects of these cases on evidence acquired by police by search and seizure are; the gradual adoption of enforcement of the exclusionary rule form federal courts to state courts and its utilization in governing the conduct of law enforcement during a search and seizure. However, the efficacy of this rule in improving this conduct is debatable as evidenced especially in the case of Mapp, where there was a dramatic increase in the number of police officers fabricating the grounds of arrest in order to conform to the precedent set by Mapp (Canon, 1979)

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A reasonable search is supported by probable cause, conducted in a reasonable and constitutional manner, requires a warrant which is given by the magistrate upon clear demonstration of probable cause except in a few exceptions where a warrant is not required. These exceptions may include; if the officer has reasonable grounds, consensual search, routine investigatory searches and the seizure of items that are in plain view of the officer. The 4th amendment guarantees the right of persons to be protected from unreasonable searches of their private property, papers and effects. It also specifies that no warrant shall be issued without the presence of probable cause, support by affirmation or oath, proper description of the place to be searched and the items that will be seized.

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The law enforcement officers in these three cases should have read the specifications of the exclusionary rule and understood the consequences of behaving in an unconstitutional manner, demonstrated clear probable cause in the case of Mapp, should have arrived with warrants in all three cases, should have refrained from subjecting Rochin to a rigorous and shocking process in order to obtain evidence. If the police were able to observe the laws governing search and seizure in all cases, no more than a relatively small fraction of charges would be dismissed when a motion to suppress is granted.

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