In our last post, we discussed the exclusionary rule – the legal doctrine that courts have fashioned over the years to penalize police when they violate a suspect's constitutional rights. What we only briefly mentioned is that this penalty is so trivial and weak that it does not hold accountable the police officers who violate someone's rights. As a result, it does not sufficiently deter police overreach and misconduct.
The Penalty of the Exclusionary Rule
Whenever a police officer violates the civil rights of a criminal suspect or defendant, the exclusionary rule keeps any evidence that gets discovered as a result of that violation from being used in court.
For example, if a police officer searching for evidence of a drug crime violates a suspect's Fourth Amendment rights and conducts a search that is “unreasonable,” any evidence that gets discovered will not be allowed into the courtroom. Without being able to use it against the suspect, prosecutors and law enforcement often have a far more difficult time proving their case. Without the evidence, chances are high that they will have to dismiss it.
The Problem With the Penalty: There's No Police Accountability
While the exclusionary rule is good news for people who have already had their civil rights violated by police, the penalty completely passes over the real culprit in the story; the offending police officer. The only thing that happens is the evidence gets kept out of court. This protects the suspect whose rights have been violated and makes it more difficult for a prosecutor to get a criminal charge to stick.
However, the police officer who literally violated the Constitution moves on with his or her life. In most instances, they are not even reprimanded by the police department.
In this sense, the exclusionary rule is not actually a penalty. Instead, it merely compensates the victim of the civil rights violation. It's nothing more than an apology.
The Exclusionary Rule Has No Deterring Effect
Without actually penalizing an offending police officer for violating someone's constitutional rights, the exclusionary doesn't deter further transgressions. Police can move forward, knowing that the only thing that will happen if they stomp on the Constitution is whatever evidence they find will be worthless. They, themselves, face no repercussion.
Needless to say, this completely fails to deter police misconduct in the future. In fact, it encourages it: Police know that the exclusionary rule is the only meaningful remedy for a violation of a suspect's constitutional rights and that it will lead to no repercussions for them. They are free to continue to violate the Constitution, knowing that nothing will happen to them.
Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who serves the accused in Philadelphia. With his help, you can fight against the charges that have been filed against you by invoking your constitutional rights and keeping the police from overreaching in your case. Call his law office at (215) 535-5353 or contact him online for the legal representation you need at this difficult time.