Expanding Exclusionary Rule Exceptions and Contracting Fourth Amendment Protection

Article excerpt


In Arizona v. Evans,(1) the United States Supreme Court held that the exclusionary rule does not apply where an unlawful search is the result of a clerical error by a court employee.(2) The Court reasoned that the exclusionary rule did not fulfill its requisite deterrent purposes in a case where a police officer acted in good faith in response to a non-existent misdemeanor warrant appearing on the police computer.(3) Thus, the Court ruled that evidence seized in violation of Isaac Evans' Fourth Amendment rights could be admitted and used against Evans in a criminal proceeding.(4) According to the Court, the exclusionary rule is a judicially created remedy designed to deter future Fourth Amendment violations by police officers.(5) Because the rule is not a specific remedy to cure Fourth Amendment violations, it is only applicable when the deterrent purposes are most efficaciously served.(6)

This Note argues that the illegally seized evidence should have been excluded even though the violation was caused by a court employee.(7) First, this Note asserts that the Court distorted the precedent of United States v. Leon,(8) the common law foundation for the good faith exception, by ignoring the centrality of the warrant process in that case. Second, this Note asserts that, contrary to the majority's indication, the role of the exclusionary rule is much greater than mere deterrence.(9) Finally, this Note argues that even if the main goal of the exclusionary rule is deterrence, that goal would be better served by applying the rule to all state law enforcement personnel, not only to arresting officers. Therefore, the Court incorrectly held that the introduction of evidence against a criminal defendant, seized without a warrant or probable cause due to clerical error, was constitutionally permissible.


1. Basic Principles of the Fourth Amendment and the Exclusionary Rule

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects the right of the people to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.(10) While the language of the Fourth Amendment forbids unreasonable searches and seizures, it does not provide a mechanism for prevention or a remedy, should they occur.(11) The exclusionary rule provides a means for enforcing the Fourth Amendment by "command[ing] that where evidence has been obtained in violation of the search and seizure protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the illegally obtained evidence can not be used at the trial of a defendant."(12)

The Supreme Court first announced the exclusionary rule in 1886, in Boyd v. United States.(13) Boyd involved a quasi-criminal forfeiture proceeding.(14) In Boyd, the Court concluded that compelling a defendant to produce private papers was equivalent to an unlawful search and seizure and therefore unconstitutional.(15) Justice Bradley authored the opinion which linked the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.(16) Compelling the production of private papers essentially required the defendant to provide self-incriminating testimony, a clear Fifth Amendment violation.(17) Thus, the Court noted that because police often engage in unreasonable searches or seizures in order to compel the defendant to give self-incriminating testimony, the admission of this evidence in court violates the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. (18)

In 1914, in Weeks v. United States,(19) the Supreme Court first applied the exclusionary rule to criminal proceedings in federal courts. In Weeks, the Court held that a trial court could not use private documents, such as letters, which were seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment, as evidence in criminal proceedings.(20) The Court reasoned that it could not admit illegally obtained evidence without effectively condoning unconstitutional behavior, thereby compromising the integrity of the judiciary.(21) The Court did not mention deterrence as a goal supporting the exclusionary rule, but rather noted privacy interests,(22) the limitation of governmental power,(23) and the import of judicial integrity. …