The Exclusionary Rule

Criminal Evidence, Criminal Procedure


The aim of the Exclusionary rule is to protect the rights of American citizens, protect them from arbitrary intrusion and dissuade law officials from abusing constitutional rights. The rule prevents the use of direct evidence gathered in violation of the Constitution inadmissible in court. Evidence such as one gained from unreasonable search and seizure or other unconstitutional manner may be suppressed by the court. This means that the court will mostly not admit such evidence in the event of the criminal’s trial. The rule is also employed when a violation indirectly results in incriminating evidence.

Exclusionary rule provides protection against Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment offers freedom and protection from Government agents and their activities, including search and seizure made without a signed warrant from a judge. Initially, the law excluded the state courts, but by 1961, the rule gained a universal recognition for all criminal proceedings. The exclusionary rule protects citizens against violations of Fifth Amendment’s self-incrimination and Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel.

Without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, any evidence gained from search and seizure is invalid. For instance, if a police officer accosts a lady in a mall, searches her bag and chances upon some incriminating evidence concerning a crime, that evidence is inadmissible in court even if the evidence rightly proves that the lady committed the crime.

Furthermore, all further evidence stemming from the violation of the citizen’s rights is also deemed inadmissible in court. Recovery of evidence based on such illegal conduct is termed ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ and thus can be rejected during trial.

The Exclusionary rule is applicable to every person within the United States whether citizens, immigrants or mere visitors.

Exceptions of the Exclusionary Rule

The exclusionary rule does not apply in grand jury proceeding, civil matter or parole revocation hearing. Other exceptions to the rule include:

  • The ‘Good-faith exception’ which allows evidence gathered by officers who are unaware that the warrant in their possession is invalid/defective. The officers believed that they were working with a valid document signed by the appropriate authority.
  • Inevitable discovery rule involves gathering of evidence that would have been lawfully discovered inevitably. Even though the evidence was gained unlawfully maybe through illegal search and seizure but same evidence would also have been discovered eventually, even without a warrant, it is admissible in court.
  • Only when the illegal search/seizure violates the defendant’s rights directly can it be suppressed. If it is in violation of a third party’s privacy rights, the exclusionary rule may not apply.
  • The Exclusionary rule does not apply if the evidence is acquired from the defendant by a non-government person. A private person like a mall security guard can obtain admissible confession or evidence from the suspect. The rule only seeks to protect individuals from Government officials.

There are other exceptions to the Exclusionary Rule like the Exigent Circumstances Exception, Isolated Police Negligence, the Silver Platter Doctrine, In Court identification and the Attenuation Principal.

You must contact experienced lawyers if for any reason you suspect/believe that you have been unlawfully convicted based on the Exclusionary Rule. You need to act fast lest the available evidence be used against you.