Eagle Forum Legislative Alerts

Friday, August 12, 2016

Victory Against Excluding Evidence in Criminal Cases

For decades conservatives have complained about how evidence is sometimes excluded from criminal prosecutions based on a mere technicality. The Warren Court, which was the U.S. Supreme Court during the tenure of Chief Justice Earl Warren in the 1950s and 60s, invented the so-called “exclusionary rule” to prevent law enforcement from using evidence of wrongdoing if it was obtained in some technical violation of the Fourth Amendment. The victim of the “exclusionary rule” is the public, because criminals then walk free and commit more crimes.

In a refreshing break from that tradition, the Supreme Court ruled in June that evidence of wrongdoing would not be excluded from prosecutions when the violation of the Fourth Amendment was only remotely related to the seizure of the evidence. In this case, a police officer stopped a man seen leaving a home suspected of being used for drug deals. The officer requested his driver’s license. Based on a database search performed on the man’s driver’s license number, the officer next learned that there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest. The officer then arrested and searched him, and found illegal drugs. His defense attorney persuaded the Utah Supreme Court to suppress the evidence of criminality based on an argument that there was no valid basis for stopping the individual in the first place. Some insist that exclusion of such evidence is necessary to discourage “profiling”, whereby police stop people based on their race or religion.

In a splendid decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Utah Supreme Court, and ordered that evidence of wrongdoing should not be excluded based on the fact that the suspect was stopped illegally by police. Titled Utah v. Strieff, this decision will enable police to do their job, and allow juries to consider all evidence of wrongdoing before deciding whether a defendant is guilty.

Listen to the radio commentary here:

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