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The United States Constitution establishes the basic rules regarding case processing, outlines pre-trial and trial procedures, the role of Jury and a Grand Jury, safeguards the rights of the convicted, and covers such issues as double jeopardy and the death penalty. The principles outlined in the Constitution of the United States are considered fundamental. However, some of these principles are vague in meaning and can be interpreted differently. This fact led to the establishment of the Supreme Court as the highest authority which can interpret the meaning of constitutional rights and principles, and enforce this interpretation onto lower courts.
The Exclusionary Rule
The legal principle called the Exclusionary Rule is the result of the Supreme Court interpretation of the constitutional right of the United States citizens to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures (Dempsey, 2016). The ambiguity as to what consider “unreasonable” led to several appellate cases that changed the law of criminal procedure regarding police searches and evidence.
One of the four pivotal cases is Weeks v. United States, a case in which the Supreme Court decided that gathering of evidence without a warrant in a private residence is a violation of the Fourth Amendment (Dempsey, 2016). In Weeks v. United States, the police gathered the evidence used in court without a warrant. Fremont Weeks appealed to the Supreme Court, which decided that warrantless seizure of evidence in such circumstances was unconstitutional on a federal level.
In Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, the issue of illegally seized evidence application in court was decided by the Supreme Court (Dempsey, 2016). Silverthorne Lumber Co. was prosecuted for tax fraud after the tax books were illegally seized and copied by the prosecutors. The Supreme Court decided that illegal evidence could not be used in court. This ruling later became known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine (Dempsey, 2016).
Another pivotal case in Wolf v. Colorado, in which the Supreme Court decided whether exclusionary rule had to be applied in state courts (Dempsey, 2016). The Supreme Court decided that the Exclusionary Rule was not a part of the constitutional right outlined in the Fourth Amendment. As such, it could be applied in federal courts only. In part, the decision was the result of the fact that states had their own laws regarding warrantless searches by the police, albeit ineffective in deterrence.
The Mapp vs. Ohio case made the Exclusionary Rule applies to both state and federal courts. In this case, the defendant, Dollree Mapp, was accused of possessing sexually explicit materials, which were found when the police searched Mapp’s house. However, they searched the house on a suspicion that a suspect was inside (Mapp v. Ohio (1961), n.d., para. 2).
The defendant appealed her conviction because her rights to possess the materials were governed by the First Amendment. However, the Supreme Court ruled her innocent because her house was searched without a warrant (Mapp v. Ohio (1961), n.d., para. 3). As a result, today the evidence gathered in violation of the United States constitution is considered inadmissible nationwide.
Stop and Frisk
Stop and frisk is a term that describes “the detaining of a person by law enforcement officers for investigation, accompanied by a superficial examination […] to discover weapons, contraband, or other objects relating to criminal activity” (Dempsey, 2016, p. 576). The policy of stop and frisk is a result of the Supreme Court ruling in Terry v. Ohio case.
In Terry v. Ohio, several individuals were charged with carrying concealed weapons after a police officer had performed a surface search of their clothing on the grounds of their suspicious behavior (Terry v. Ohio, n.d., para. 5). The defense argued that the search was a violation of The Fourth Amendment; however, the Supreme Court decided that the search can be performed without a warrant if it is prompted by suspicious behavior (Terry v. Ohio, n.d., para. 5). The concept of reasonable suspicion was s further The following five conditions for stop and frisk were outlined by the Supreme Court:
An unusual conduct must be present;
- The police officer must have a reasonable suspicion that a person might carry a weapon;
- The police officer must identify themselves;
- The police officer must make a reasonable inquiry;
- If the suspicion still holds, the police officer must search the outer layer of a person’s clothes for weapons (Dempsey, 2016, p. 422).
Stop and frisk policy was further developed after Terry v. Ohio. In Minnesota v. Dickerson, the Supreme Court ruled that only immediately recognizable weapons can be legally seized under this policy (Dempsey, 2016, p. 423). The concept of suspicious behavior was developed in Illinois v. Wardlow case, which described the suspicious behavior as being present in a criminalized area and fleeing when the police arrive (Dempsey, 2016, p. 423).
The Miranda Warning
The United States Constitution establishes a fundamental right of the not to self-incriminate. In Miranda v. Arizona case, it was established that the police must warn the defendant about their rights before questioning (Miranda v. Arizona,n.d., para. 2). The Miranda warning has interpreted by the Supreme Court in later cases, including United States v. Patane and Missouri v. Seibert.
In the first case, the Supreme Court clarified that physical evidence did not have to be suppressed if the law enforcement personnel failed to warn the defendant of their rights (Dempsey, 2016, p. 443). In the second case, the defendant gave two statements during the interrogation, one of which was given before the Miranda warning. The Supreme Court ruled that the practice of two-tier interrogation was unconstitutional and dismissed the second statement.
Maryland State Law
In addition to the United States Constitution and federal laws, state laws are established by states and some of them describe the practice of criminal procedure. The Maryland law allows for the DNA sample of the defendant to be obtained and saved in a database.
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In Maryland v. King, the defendant’s DNA samples were taken without a warranted when he was arrested on assault charges (Brower & Reimer, 2014). The DNA samples matched those obtained in a rape exam a few years earlier. The defendant claimed that the warrantless collection of DNA samples violated his constitutional rights. The Supreme Court ruled otherwise and affirmed the legitimacy of the Maryland Law (Brower & Reimer, 2014).
The United States is a democratic country that relies on the rule of law to establish justice and protect the constitutional rights of its citizens. The rights of the United States citizens are outlined in the constitution, which contains several fundamental principles regarding criminal procedure. The Supreme Court is the only court that can interpret the principles outlined in the constitution. A series of landmark cases of the 20th century had a significant impact on the law of criminal procedure.
Brower, G., & Reimer, N. (2014). Maryland v. King: Possibly The Most Important Criminal Procedure Case in Decades.
Dempsey, J. S. (2016). An Introduction to Policing, 8th Edition. [VitalSource Bookshelf Online].
Mapp v. Ohio (1961). (n.d.)
Miranda v. Arizona. (n.d.)
Terry v. Ohio. (n.d.)