9 Exclusionary Rule Pros and Cons

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The exclusionary rule in law is a concept that can be found in the legal system of the United States. It is a rule that is based on the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from illegal searches and/or seizures. In some cases, the Fifth Amendment may also apply, which states that a person cannot be compelled to be a witness against themselves in a criminal proceeding.

Under the process of the exclusionary rule, any evidence that is either collected or analyzed in a way that violates the Constitutional rights of that person cannot be used against them in a criminal proceeding. That evidence is excluded from what can be used against them in a court of law.

The primary benefit of the exclusionary rule is that it requires evidence of wrongdoing for someone to experience a search and possible seizure. Without this rule in place, it would be possible for someone to be searched at any time, have evidence analyzed in improper ways, and be constantly subjected to law enforcement queries regarding their conduct, even though they have done nothing wrong.

The disadvantage of the exclusionary rule is that it can allow people who are clearly guilty to be freed on a legal technicality. It places the burden of providing a clear chain of evidence on law enforcement officials that includes a reasonable cause for taking actions.

Here are some of the other key points to consider in this conversation about the exclusionary rule pros and cons.

What Are the Pros of the Exclusionary Rule?

1. It requires the lawmakers to follow the law.
A society must be committed to the rule of law for society to receive consistency. Without the exclusionary rule, those who are accused of breaking the law can be convicted by evidence that may have been gathered before they were even officially accused of something. We cannot rely on vigilantism or official lawlessness as a justification to put someone behind bars. A commitment to the rule of law means no one is above the law at any time.

2. It requires probable cause.
Probable cause, in the United States, means that there must be a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct before a warrant can be issued to collect evidence. Even if a person is accused of wrongdoing, their actions must be examined before they are subjected to a search. Although this requires additional steps in the chain of evidence, the time, effort, and monetary investment that is needed is minimal. In return, it reduces the number of false accusations that occur within society.

3. It limits the power of the government.
Without the exclusionary rule in place, governments could control the population through their own concepts of law. It is a legal concept that allows people to protect the sanctity of their homes and their families. The exclusionary rule also helps people to keep their property private and not be used against them at the whims of a government official.

4. It assumes innocence before guilt.
In the justice system of the United States, a person is assumed innocent until they are proven to be guilty before a jury or an authorized judge. The exclusionary rule supports this concept because people, even if charged with a crime, are still assumed to be innocent. Reporting on a person’s conduct can cause society to pre-judge individuals, but one of the core concepts in the U.S. justice system is to receive a fair trial. The exclusionary rule promotes fairness.

5. It reduces the risks of manufactured evidence.
Under the exclusionary rule, there must be a documented chain of evidence for items to be admitted against an individual. If that documentation doesn’t exist, then it really isn’t evidence. By having this rule in place, officials are prevented from creating false evidence. Although some officers have been caught on tape “planting” evidence at crime scenes, they are the exception to the rule.

What Are the Cons of the Exclusionary Rule?

1. It is a rule that has no effect on the innocent.
The exclusionary rule is a legal concept that is designed to shield someone who would normally be convicted of a crime because of their actions. Although there may be more searches and seizures of the general population, those who are innocent will still be innocent. The fear of not having the exclusionary rule is that evidence would be fabricated and that is an entirely different issue to consider.

2. It places the emphasis on law enforcement conduct instead of the crime.
The exclusionary rule focuses on the processes that law enforcement officials follow when collecting evidence of a crime. Instead of placing an emphasis on the actual crime that was committed and supporting justice for the victims involved, it creates a situation where officials are scrutinized in their conduct to a greater extent than the individual who has been accused of committing a crime.

3. It can only be applied in criminal proceedings.
The exclusionary rule is associated with the Fourth Amendment, but it is more of a legal concept than it is a specific rule that is followed. Because it is a “principle” instead of a “rule,” the concepts behind the exclusionary rule do not apply to civil proceedings. In the United States, anyone can sue another person for almost anything and potentially win their case.

4. It hits taxpayers in their bank accounts.
The exclusionary rule may provide protections for individuals accused of a crime, but it also creates deeper levels of administrative work. When there are more regulations that must be followed, then there are higher costs which must be paid. No study has ever been done to look at the actual cost of this rule being applied, but there are up to 18,000 police agencies in the United States. There are about 765,000 sworn officials with arresting power in those agencies. Now imagine each one must spend 10 hours per year on administrative work caused by the exclusionary rule. The average salary of a U.S. police officer is about $58,240, or about $28 per hour. At 7.65 million hours of work, that’s $214.2 million in administrative spending for the exclusionary rule.

The goal of any justice system should be to provide an outcome that is fair for all parties involved. These exclusionary rule pros and cons are one way the United States attempts to create that outcome. Although there will always be innocent people who are wrongly convicted and guilty people who are wrongly freed, this process is designed to limit the risks of that happening.

How do you feel about the application of the exclusionary rule in modern criminal justice systems?