Many of the amendments to the U.S. Constitution protect the rights of people who are suspected or who have been formally accused of committing a crime. However, none of those amendments state exactly how that protection works. Instead, courts have had to create penalties for law enforcement whenever they violate one of those amendments and the civil rights that it provides the American people.
One of the most important penalties created by the courts has been the exclusionary rule. The rule, however, is far from perfect and, as we'll show in our next blog post, is at the heart of the problems that we have with policing, today.
Several Amendments to the U.S. Constitution Protect People Suspected of Crimes
The amendments to the U.S. Constitution are there to guarantee certain rights to the people. Among the things that the framers of the Constitution found especially important to protect were the rights of U.S. citizens who were suspected of committing a crime, or who had already been arrested and formally charged with one.
These amendments include the:
- Fourth Amendment, which prohibits law enforcement from performing “searches or seizures” are “unreasonable”
- Fifth Amendment, which forbids compelled self-incrimination and demands due process in criminal cases
- Sixth Amendment, which gives a defendant the right to a lawyer, a fair and speedy public trial, and the right to confront witnesses
None of these amendments, say what happens when these rights are violated.
The Exclusionary Rule: Patching a Hole in the Constitution
U.S. courts have fought with the lack of a penalty in these amendments. Without repercussions, they were essentially toothless.
Over time, they established the exclusionary rule, which prohibits – or excludes – evidence from the courtroom if that evidence had been gathered against a criminal suspect or defendant in violation of their civil rights: Evidence of a drug crime that was found during a search or seizure that was “unreasonable” and in violation of the Fourth Amendment would not be allowed in the courtroom, making it useless to law enforcement.
A Rule Rife With Controversy
The exclusionary rule has few friends and lots of critics.
Prosecutors and advocates for law enforcement claim that the exclusionary rule lets criminals go free whenever police make a mistake. Holding strong evidence out of the courtroom lets likely criminals off “on a technicality.”
Civil rights advocates, on the other hand, hate the exclusionary rule because there is no disincentive for police to violate a suspect's rights. The officer who actually violates a defendant's civil rights does not actually get penalized. Furthermore, it is up to the defendant's lawyer to fight to keep the incrimination evidence out of the courtroom. Together, there is little reason for police to take the Constitution seriously.
Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia who does take the Constitution seriously. He knows how to use the exclusionary rule to protect everyone's civil rights and keep police officers in line.
Contact him online or call his law office in Philadelphia today at (215) 535-5353.