The Exclusionary Rule and Civil Liability
Professor Donna Yohman
August 30, 2014
In 1914, Weeks v. United States was decided by the Supreme Court. In Weeks, the Court made a landmark decision relating to illegal search and seizure by law enforcement called the Exclusionary Rule. The Exclusionary Rule provided that evidence “illegally seized by law enforcement officers in violation of a suspect’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures cannot be used against the suspect in a criminal prosecution.” (Exclusionary Rule, 2010, p. 287). However, it was not until the 1961 case of Mapp v. Ohio that the Court made the Exclusionary Rule binding on the states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Furthermore, in the 1920 case of Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, the Court expanded the scope of the Exclusionary Rule by also prohibiting the use of any evidence which was obtained with the assistance of information previously banned under the Exclusionary Rule. This was labeled by the Court as the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. For example, if an illegal search was conducted on a person’s cellular phone which subsequently led to the seizure of an amount of narcotics, the information gleaned from the phone would be inadmissible under the Exclusionary Rule; however, the narcotics seized would be considered “fruit” from the illegally obtained information and therefore inadmissible as well. This paper will review the homicide of Clyde Stevens and determine how the Exclusionary Rule and/or fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine applies. It will also discuss the legal ramifications which officers can face as a result of conducting an illegal search, as well as what step should’ve been taken by law enforcement to protect the integrity of the investigation and ensure the admissibility of all evidence seized. During the initial response to Ms. Mary Ellis’ 911 call the police located Mr. Stevens’ deceased body in her walk in closet. Crime scene technicians then arrived on scene and processed the entire residence using specialized equipment. Upon responding to these types of emergencies law enforcement is allowed to “make a prompt warrantless search of the area to see if there are other victims or if a killer is still on the premises.” (Mincey v. Arizona, 1978). Mincey further allowed officers to seize evidence found in plain view during the emergency; however, once the emergency is contained a search warrant must be obtained. Thus, the search of Ms. Ellis’ residence would be illegal and the bloody fingerprint located and processed at the scene would be inadmissible as evidence under the Exclusionary Rule. Furthermore, the later analysis and results from the evidence recovered from the scene would be considered “fruit” and also be inadmissible as evidence under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. Therefore any and all evidence obtained from the scene was the product of an illegal search and cannot be used in the prosecution of Mr. Williams. Do to the fact that the police agency investigating the Stevens homicide conducted an illegal search and subsequent seizure of evidence, this raises the question of if they could be held civilly liable for their actions. “Historically…police mistakes of law have been condemned by courts, triggering first tort liability.” (Logan, 2011, p. 70). So the answer to this question is yes; however, over time recent case law has shown the courts leniency toward police officers mistakes of law. This has been held time and time again by the courts when determining police liability. This paper does not condone police violations of law, nonetheless, in cases such as Stoner v. California and United States v. Leon the courts have shown their willingness to excuses the violations if they are considered objectively reasonable or done in good faith. There is really no...
References: Exclusionary Rule. (2010). In D. Batten (Ed.), Gale Encyclopedia of American Law (3rd ed., Vol. 4, pp. 287-290). Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from: http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CCX1337701673&v=2.1&u=chic13451&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&asid=5580147f35941e1c0574fac566b3f2ed
Logan, W.A. (2011). Police mistakes of law. Emory Law Journal, 61(1), 69-110. Retrieved from: http://search.ebscohost.com.lib.kaplan.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edslex&AN=edslex581BAB7C&site=eds-live
Mincey v. Arizona, 437 US 385 - Supreme Court (1978).
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