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Exclusionary Rule: Benefits and Liabilities Essay

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Updated: Aug 28th, 2020


The Exclusionary rule is a serious and complex issue in criminal law that can have elaborate consequences when breached. The rule involves all types of evidence acquired by the representatives of the law enforcement in an unconstitutional manner and conflict with the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The present paper covers multiple aspects of the Exclusionary rule (such as Fruit of the Poisonous Tree and Christian burial speech), as well as its benefits and liabilities, and explains the potential consequences of non-adherence to the rule.

Description, Purpose, and Benefits

The Exclusionary rule is based on the rights granted to the United States citizens by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution that was designed to protect the right of the American citizens “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”; additionally, the Amendment states that “no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause” (“Fourth Amendment,” 2017, p. 1). However, even though the Amendment was ratified at the end of the 1700s, over a hundred years after its ratification it continued to have no power because all the evidence obtained by the representatives of the law enforcement during the searches of the suspects and their premises was considered admissible in the trials and prosecution (“The Fourth Amendment and the ‘Exclusionary Rule’,” 2017).

The changes were introduced by the Supreme Court in 1914 in Weeks v. the United States, 232 U.S. 383; as the defendant’s conviction was based on evidence that was taken without a warrant, the Supreme Court ruled that the evidence serving as the ground for conviction had no power due to being acquired unconstitutionally. As a result, the conviction was reversed creating the Exclusionary rule that was further ratified by the other states.

The major purpose of the Exclusionary rule is to protect the United States citizens from police misconduct and unsanctioned seizures and searches. Also, the rule provides the defendants with the right to exclude evidence from being unsigned at a trial if there is proof that the evidence was obtained unconstitutionally and thus is not admissible (“The Fourth Amendment and the ‘Exclusionary Rule’,” 2017).

The exclusionary rule has evoked some controversy and opposition in the general public as it can be abused by the criminals, thus enabling them to exclude evidence when convicted and walk free from the trials (“Exclusionary rule pros and cons list,” 2016). However, the rule is necessary as its major objective is to provide security to the United States citizens and ensure that the operation of the law enforcement services and federal agents is controlled, thus limiting them from abusing the granted power. In that way, the Exclusionary rule serves to establish the balance of rights and freedoms among the citizens and law enforcement.

The Best Evidence

The title of the Best evidence rule speaks for itself. Practically, the rule applies to the procedures undertaken for the evidence expected to be presented during a trial. Usually, the application of the rule means that the “best” evidence should be detected and used; the quality of evidence is measured based on the validity of the copied of written or printed documents – the official and verified copies are prioritized (“What is the best evidence rule?” 2014). The theory of Best evidence does not apply to the printed documents as much in contemporary times since the creation of a digital copy does not require re-writing the document and the chances of errors as minor. However, the rule is more relevant for demonstrative evidence such as actual objects and video records. For example, in a scenario when an object serves as the evidence (a piece of clothing with bloodstains on it, for instance) – it should always be referred to a photograph or a model of this object (unless the object itself was somehow destroyed or lost). The same rule applies to films; in the cases when films serve as evidence – the original records from a security camera are preferred to the unofficial versions that could have been altered by mistake or deliberately.

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

Fruit of the poisonous tree is the widely accepted name used for the type of evidence that happened accidentally to be found during the investigation on another cause, and that would not have been revealed otherwise (“Exclusionary rule,” n.d.). This kind of evidence also falls under the scope of the Exclusionary rule and can be suppressed at trial should the respondent request it.

The doctrine is in place to deter the law enforcement representatives from abusing their power. The failure to avoid breaking the rule will lead to the withdrawal of evidence revealed illegally and could jeopardize the entire course of investigation built based on such evidence. United States v. Crews (1980) is a good demonstration: a victim was assaulted at pinpoint and reported the crime to the police immediately describing the offender. Soon, a person matching the description is located; however, his picture could not be taken for further investigation. The person is arrested, brought to the police station for questioning, and photographed; his image is shown to the victim who recognized him as the offender; she also does so in the following line-up, and the offender is convicted. However, the court rules to suppress the evidence because the suspect was seized unconstitutionally in the first place and the line-up would not have occurred without it. Another suitable scenario in United States v. Patane (2004) where during the investigation of a restraining order violation, it was revealed that the respondent illegally owned a gun; the weapon was acquired violating the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine as the investigator was made aware of the respondent’s gun ownership by a peer, which made the entire case inadmissible at trial.

Christian Burial Speech

The issues referred to as the Christian Burial Speech first occurred in Brewer v. Williams in 1977 when a police officer spoke to the convicted mentally ill individual and convinced him to lead the police to the body of his victim while being transferred from one station to another even though the offender had been previously advised not to answer the officers’ questions; as a result, the actions of the respondent qualified as the compulsory self-incrimination causing the Supreme Court to rule to overturn the charges. Such violations may jeopardize the entire investigation and all the evidence obtained with the help of the Christian Burial Speech thus making it inadmissible at trial and causing the court to overturn the conviction.

Shocking to the Conscience

The court rulings based on the facts that were recognized as shocking to the conscience of the court justice in place have not been issued in over a hundred years (Denning, 2015). Such decisions are rather subjective and are based solely on the mindset of one person. The older scenarios that involve the character of shocking to the conscience date back to the early 1900s and late 1800s; they revolved around the prices for real estate that could be named shocking to the conscience due to being too high. The modern scenarios shocking to the conscience could potentially involve the actions of law enforcement officers that would shock the conscience of court justices.


Coercion represents another way of unlawful acquisition of evidence or confession; the United States citizens are protected from it by the Fifth Amendment that covers the issue of self-incrimination. The behaviors that are characterized as coercive involve the acquisition of information in the settings that are particularly threatening to the convicted persons and the ones violating Miranda procedures. Such information cannon the presented as evidence or used by the prosecution at trial.

Liabilities of the Exclusionary Rule

The rule can be abused by the defendant and cause the suppression of evidence that was eligible. This error may occur due to the lack of an explicit statement of which actions quality as the breach of the Fourth Amendment. Also, the execution of the rule lengthens the trial processes for several months or even years. The evidence dismissed due to the rule still points at the convicted person’s guilt; however, it results in an overturn of the conviction, thus releasing the dangerous individual of the charges and potentially endangering the society.


The complexity of the Exclusionary rule makes it necessary for the law enforcement services to adhere to it and avoid engaging in practices jeopardizing the investigation or information acquired throughout its course. The rule is initially intended as the protection of the United States citizens from the infringement of their constitutional rights. However, it is often used by the offenders to benefit their cases and help them obtain miler sentences or be freed of charges. In some cases, the criminals plan their offenses based on the rule. In that way, it is detrimental that criminal justice professionals are extra careful while obtaining and working with evidence.


Denning, J. (2015). Web.

(2017). Web.

Exclusionary rule pros and cons list. (2016). Web.

(2017). Web.

(1980). Web.

(2004). Web.

(2014). Web.

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