Written By: Brandy Miller | June 15, 2017 | No Comments
We’ve all heard of criminal defendants “getting off on a technicality”. Most of our society sees that as unfair, as a dangerous criminal getting to go free because of some meaningless legal procedural rule. Still others believe if they hire a good enough lawyer, they will be able to get off on a technicality and not have to do time for a crime they know they committed. There is understandable anger over criminals being set free for some small error in the investigation.
Well, would it surprise you to find out those “technicalities” exist for the protection of the freedoms of you and me, not for the criminal? The United States Supreme Court established what is now known as the Exclusionary Rule in the landmark case of Weeks v. United States in 1914. This rule says that any evidence obtained through illegal search and seizures (and/or other rules) would not be admissible in Court. The idea behind the rule was that if the police were able to use evidence obtained illegally, it would encourage the use of illegal measures by Police to obtain the information so that they can get the evidence they need. If the person was innocent, the police would just apologize and be on their way without repercussion. In the Court’s view, the fourth amendment in the Bill of Rights to our Constitution would be meaningless if not for the Exclusionary rule.
However, the Exclusionary rule was only applicable to Federal Courts. Because most crimes are prosecuted on a state level, this meant the Exclusionary Rule had little effect on the vast majority of Americans. The Supreme Court resisted allowing the rule to be applied on the state level, saying that this should be a matter for each state to decide how they would run things. The Supreme Court said that private civil suits always existed to punish police for violating innocent people’s constitutional rights.
But people understandably weren’t taking on the costs of pursuing such lawsuits, so the Police continued to violate innocent people’s rights, and the states weren’t doing enough to curb this behavior. In a famous case in Miami, Florida, police were detaining people, sometimes for hours in a sealed off room, based only upon their appearance. Police would then wear the people down until they got a confession out of them, often times inaccurate confessions because the people didn’t think they would ever get out until they said something.
Similarly, case after case would be reported where police were denying people attorneys and using techniques that were torturous in order to get confessions out of people, with people later saying they lied in their confession just to get released from the interrogations. Police often held people for hours into days, forcing confessions out of them. Sure, the police often got it right and got their criminal, but way too often innocent people were getting tortured and had done nothing wrong. There was no way to stop the Police.
The Supreme Court had warned Police to stop this illegal behavior for decades, but the Police continued to violate people’s constitutional rights without care about who they were hurting. Finally, in 1961, the United States Supreme Court had had enough. Private civil suits weren’t curbing the Police, and neither was public sentiment. Therefore, in the landmark case of Mapp v. Ohio, the Supreme Court made the Exclusionary rule applicable to all police and all government, stating that the only way to protect innocent people, is to take away the benefit of getting evidence through illegal means. No longer would the “fruit of the poisonous tree” be allowed to be used to convict criminals in Court. By taking away the incentive, the Police no longer benefitted from violating the rights of innocent people.
Therefore, when you see evidence being barred in Court due to violations of various rules, while it is extremely upsetting to see criminals benefit from mistakes, understand that the Court is protecting you and me, and no other way of trying to protect the innocent person proved to be effective. While our criminal system is not perfect, it does try to protect the rights of everyone, both guilty and not guilty.