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Exclusionary Rule

The exclusionary rule is a rule in criminal law that is intended to ensure that government agents do not violate citizens’ constitutional rights. In this article, we’ll define the term “exclusionary rule,” offer an example of it and list some exceptions to the rule. 

Key Takeaways

  • The exclusionary rule prevents the government from using evidence gathered in violation of the Constitution, namely the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments
  • The exclusionary rule only applies to criminal cases
  • The exclusionary rule applies to evidence gathered in illegal searches as well as self-incriminatory statements made when a person was not read their Miranda rights
  • There are several exceptions to the exclusionary rule, including the good faith exception, the independent source doctrine, the inevitable discovery doctrine, and the attenuation doctrine

What Is the Exclusionary Rule?

The exclusionary rule is a guideline that prevents the government from using most evidence gathered in violation of the Constitution. It is used to deter government agents and police officers from abusing citizens’ constitutional rights. 

The exclusionary rule applies only to criminal, not civil, cases.

The exclusionary rule applies to evidence gained from:

  • An unreasonable search or seizure gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment
  • Improperly elicited self-incriminatory statements gathered in violation of the Fifth Amendment
  • Evidence gained in situations where the government violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel

Because qualified immunity protects police officers from a lawsuit, the exclusionary rule is often a defendant’s only remedy when police officers conduct an unreasonable search or otherwise violate their rights.

Example of Exclusionary Rule

Let’s say the police pull over a man named Joe because he was speeding. While Joe is pulled over, they search his car without a search warrant. They find his phone and go through it. On Joe’s phone, the police officers read text messages suggesting that he was planning an illegal drug deal. According to the exclusionary rule, these text messages would not be admissible as evidence in a criminal court because they were obtained through an illegal search. 

Exceptions to the Exclusionary Rule

There are several exceptions to the exclusionary rule including:

  • The good faith exception - Evidence is not excluded if it was obtained by officers who reasonably relied on a search warrant that turned out to be invalid, when the police conduct a search in reliance on binding appellate precedent allowing the search, when officers rely on a statute that is later invalidated, or when officers erred in maintaining records in a warrant database
  • Independent source doctrine - Evidence obtained in unlawful search or seizure may become admissible if it is later obtained again through a constitutionally valid search or seizure
  • Inevitable discovery doctrine - Evidence obtained in an unlawful search or seizure may become admissible if it would have been discovered in the same condition anyway by an independent line of investigation that was already being pursued when the unlawful search or seizure happened

Attenuation doctrine - Evidence may be admissible when the relationship between the evidence and the unconstitutional conduct is too remote and attenuated

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