Fight Crime, Preserve Justice

Article excerpt

Stronger truth-in-sentencing, "good faith" exclusionary rule exemptions, effective death penalty provisions and cuts in social spending from this summer's "crime" bill to fund prison construction and additional law enforcement to keep people secure in their neighborhoods and kids safe in their schools.

- Item 2, Contract With America

Like many of the proposals in the Republicans' Contract With America, the "Taking Back Our Streets Act" is cast in terms hardly anyone could argue with. Who would oppose a bill "to keep people secure in their neighborhoods and kids safe in their schools"? The debate will come, of course, over the best way to achieve that goal.

To an extent, the GOP anti-crime package will be a rematch with the Democrats over many issues included in the bitterly fought crime bill of this past summer. One of the most inflammatory parts of that legislation, gun control, isn't in the new Republican proposal, though it may come up. Even without it, lively discussion is sure to arise from the bill's other features, including truth in sentencing, a streamlined procedure for capital punishment, cuts in social spending and more prison construction.

Take, for example, the controversial issue of the exclusionary rule. This provision requires evidence to be excluded from consideration in trials when it has been obtained illegally. Civil libertarians insist such a rule is necessary to guard freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution; opponents consider it merely a legal technicality that can allow guilty people to go free. Those opponents have long sought a softening of the exclusionary rule through a so-called good-faith exemption to help close what hard-line anti-crime legislators see as a loophole.

Title VI of the Taking Back Our Streets Act would change federal criminal law so that evidence could not be excluded "if the search or seizure was carried out in circumstances justifying an objectively reasonable belief that it was in conformity with the fourth amendment. …