American Legal Systems Law Issue Term Paper

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American Legal System: The Exclusionary Rule

One of the things that differentiates American criminal law from the legal systems in other countries is the Exclusionary Rule. While the Exclusionary Rule is now a well-accepted part of American jurisprudence and has even spread throughout much of the western world, it was not always part of American law. Instead, it is relatively recent. The Exclusionary Rule is "the rule that evidence secured by illegal means and in bad faith cannot be introduced in a criminal trial" (Hill and Hill). There are certain important exceptions and extensions of the Exclusionary Rule. For example, it is not an automatic rule, but triggered upon request of the defendant. There are also good faith exceptions to the Rule. However, the rule has also been extended to cover evidence that would not have been discovered but for the initial illegal activity. This paper will investigate the evolution of the Rule and its modern-day parameters.

As one might imagine, the root of the Exclusionary Rule can be found in the Fourth Amendment, which provides that, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized" (U.S. Const. amend. IV). The Constitution clearly prohibits illegal searches and seizures, but does not provide a remedy for those violations. For years, the courts struggled with how to remedy a Fourth Amendment violation, but by the late 1880s, the Court had begun to consider a series of cases that would lead to the Exclusionary Rule in state and federal prosecutions. In Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886), the Court determined that an illegal search and seizure violated the Fourth Amendment, but did not provide a remedy for that violation. In Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914), the Court expanded Boyd's holding and determined that the federal government could not use illegally gathered evidence, however states were free to continue to do so. In Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25 (1949), the Supreme Court determined that states were not required by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to exclude illegally seized evidence. That was the status until the landmark case of Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961), which extended the Exclusionary Rule to state criminal proceedings.

Mapp v. Ohio


In Mapp, the police received a tip that Mapp was harboring a fugitive. They conducted an illegal search of her home and, though they did not uncover a fugitive, they did find pornographic material. Mapp was charged with and convicted of violating an obscenity statute. She challenged her conviction on the basis that the statute in question violated her First Amendment rights and that the use of the illegally obtained evidence violated her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Ohio Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Ohio upheld Mapp's conviction. Mapp then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where she challenged her conviction on the basis that the statute in question violated her First Amendment rights and that the use of the illegally obtained evidence violated her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.


There were multiple issues before the Court. The primary issue, as briefed by Mapp's attorneys, was whether Ohio's anti-obscenity law violated the First Amendment; an issue that actually did not receive any consideration by the Court. The secondary issue, as briefed by Mapp's attorneys, was whether the evidence against Mapp was seized in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and if so, if that evidence could be used in state court criminal proceedings.


The Court did not address the First Amendment issues because doing so was unnecessary to reach its decision. Instead, the Court focused its analysis on the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The critical difference between Mapp and the prior federal Exclusionary Rule cases was the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws" (U.S. Const. amend. XIV).

The Court then had to determine whether the Fourteenth Amendment required extension of the federal protections to state proceedings. The Court then examined its decision in Wolf, where it had found that the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibited illegal searches and seizures. The Court decided to basically overrule its decision in Wolf, stating that, "It, therefore, plainly appears that the factual considerations supporting the failure of the Wolf Court to include the Weeks exclusionary rule when it recognized the enforceability of the right to privacy against the States in 1949, while not basically relevant to the constitutional consideration, could not, in any analysis, now be deemed controlling" (367 U.S. 643, 654). The Court chose not to follow Wolf for a variety of reasons, but the most compelling one was that the various states had been informed of the need to create a remedy for Fourth Amendment violations that would be similar to or have the same type of impact as the Exclusionary Rule, but had failed to do so.


First, the Court examined the factual circumstances behind the search of Mapp's home. The state was unable to provide any evidence that the police had a valid warrant when searching Mapp's home, and the circumstances of the search were strongly suggestive that they did not have such a warrant. Mapp did not consent to a voluntary search, and was even handcuffed by the police while they searched her home. Therefore, the Court determined that the search violated her Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

Next, the Court determined what remedy should be available to Mapp because of that Fourth Amendment violation. The Court compared the right to privacy with other rights found in the Bill of Rights, which had previously been held to apply to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court refused to believe that the Right to Privacy was fundamentally different from any of those other rights. It held that, "Indeed, we are aware of no restraint, similar to that rejected today, conditioning the enforcement of any other basic constitutional right. The right to privacy, no less important than any other right carefully and particularly reserved to the people, would stand in marked contrast to all other rights declared as 'basic to a free society'" (367 U.S. 643, 656). Moreover, the Court stated that, "This Court has not hesitated to enforce as strictly against the States as it does against the Federal Government the rights of free speech and of a free press, the rights to notice and to a fair, public trial, including, as it does, the right not to be convicted by use of a coerced confession, however logically relevant it be, and without regard to its reliability" (367 U.S. 643, 656). Therefore, the Court came to the conclusion that, "Since the Fourth Amendment's right of privacy has been declared enforceable against the States through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth, it is enforceable against them by the same sanction of exclusion as is used against the Federal Government" (367 U.S. 643, 655).


The Court concluded that the search of Mapp's home violated her Fourth Amendment rights. The Court found that the Fourteenth Amendment required application of the Fourth Amendment Exclusionary…[continue]

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