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What Is the Exclusionary Rule?

In the US, the Fourth Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights, guards against unreasonable searches and seizures.
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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
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  • Last Modified Date: 27 March 2014
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The exclusionary rule provides protection for defendants in criminal cases. It also protects the civil liberties of American citizens. The rule attempts to make sure that crime is not fought with crime. It does this by barring evidence that is illegally obtained.

In the United States, everyone has rights. The people who accept the responsibility of upholding the law are responsible for upholding all laws as they pertain to everyone. This includes suspected criminals. The exclusionary rule, which is based on constitutional rights, is an instance when such responsibility is specifically outlined.

The American idea of excluding certain evidence is derived from English common law. The exclusionary rule is directly related to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which addresses illegal search and seizure. This rule is generally used to suppress items before a trial begins.

Suppressing information is done by filing a motion. In some instances, the prosecution may dispute the claims and aim to have the evidence admitted. In these instances, the defendant bears the burden of proving the evidence should not be admitted.

The exclusionary rule is surrounded by controversy. This is because it can allow people who are obviously guilty avoid conviction. Police or prosecutors can have solid proof that a person committed a criminal act. If, however, that evidence was not obtained in a lawful manner, the exclusionary rule prevents it from being used in court.

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An example of evidence that is illegally obtained could be an incriminating photo. Such an item could be essential to prosecution. If a police officer knows the photo exists and believes he knows where, he must generally obtain a search warrant to obtain the photo. If the police officer is unable to obtain the search warrant and decides to sneak into a residence and take it, then it becomes illegal evidence.

The exclusionary rule can also protect the civil liberties of other citizens. In the example above, perhaps the photo is located in the home of a third party. Although the police officer’s actions are motivated by a desire to ensure justice, he violates the rights of a third party when he enters their home unlawfully. The inadmissibility of evidence obtained in such a manner helps prevent law officials from engaging in such practices.

As is the case with many rules, there are exceptions to the exclusionary rule. It does not bar all evidence obtained without a search warrant. There are some instances when such evidence may be permissible. These include instances when evidence is in plain view, in open fields, or when there are exigent circumstances.

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