The Exclusionary Rule 1914 US
“The right of the people to be secure in their bodies, homes, documents, and possessions against arbitrary searches and seizures must not be infringed,” according to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. More than two centuries later, courts are still debating how to interpret and apply those words.
The question that Judge Benjamin Cardozo posed in his 1926 New York Court of Appeals judgment in People v. Defore remains at the core of the debate: Should the criminal walk free because the policeman made a mistake? In general, courts have said yes, citing the exclusionary rule, which prevents evidence obtained illegally from being used in criminal prosecutions.
Weeks v. United States, William R. Day (1849–1923)
The exclusionary rule was established in Weeks v. United States, which declared that evidence gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against excessive search and seizure may not be used against a person in federal court.
Prior to the ruling in Weeks v. United States, courts have accepted unlawfully taken evidence as evidence in order to prevent guilty parties from going free. Individual rights were regarded as less essential than the administration of justice.
This case was a watershed moment in the Court’s reasoning. The Court created a method of implementing the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, with the establishment of the exclusionary rule. Because evidence obtained illegally may no longer be utilized against a defendant in federal court, a prosecutor may lose or dismiss a case due to a lack of evidence. As a result, the police would, in principle, take great care to acquire search warrants and ensure that their searches and seizures were legitimate.
On the 21st of December 1911, a police officer detained Fremont Weeks at his workplace without a warrant. Without a search warrant, other police officers went to Weeks’ residence and examined his room. The police confiscated books, letters, money, paperwork, stocks, deeds, candy, clothing, and other items, which they turned over to the United States marshal.
The police returned later that day with the marshal, who seized letters and envelopes discovered in a drawer. The marshal was not in possession of a search warrant. The documents were handed over to the district attorney. Weeks requested the restoration of his belongings, therefore the court ruled that those items that were not relevant to the case be restored.
Some of the items was returned to the district attorney, but what was relevant to the suspected sale of lottery tickets was maintained. Weeks requested the return of the remainder of his belongings after the jury had been sworn in but before any evidence had been presented. This request was refused by the court.
Weeks opposed to the documents being admitted as evidence at the trial because they were obtained without a search warrant and by breaking into his house, in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. The objection was overturned by the court. Weeks was charged with possession of lottery tickets and correspondence related to the lottery.
The reasoning behind the exclusionary rule was straightforward: if materials could be seized and used as evidence of crimes against an accused person, the Fourth Amendment would be rendered meaningless and, in the words of Justice William Day, speaking for the Court in Weeks, “might as well be struck from the Constitution.”
States and the Exclusionary Rule (1961).
The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)