Police Should Use Incriminating Evidence Found 'Illegally'

| by Nicholas Roberts
Supreme CourtSupreme Court

On Feb. 22, the Supreme Court convened for the first time since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia to hear oral arguments regarding Utah v. Strieff, a 2006 case which deals with law enforcement's right to use incriminating evidence against a defendant if the evidence was obtained illegally.

As of now, evidence obtained by police as a result of violating the Fourth Amendment is not permitted to be used as evidence under the 'exclusionary rule', which attempts to deter police from breaking the law in order to get the evidence they want, the New York Times reports.

The Fourth Amendment has seen protections eroding in the face of various Supreme Court cases for years.  However, a broad interpretation of the exclusionary rule, as was made by the court's liberals during Monday's hearings, ultimately serves to hamstring law enforcement in cases where common sense would dictate they are in the right.

In the case of Utah v. Strieff, in particular, Salt Lake City police monitored a suspected drug house and an officer eventually approached a man, Edward Strieff, for identification after he had left the house, according to the L.A. Times.

A routine check revealed an outstanding traffic warrant, which led to Strieff's arrest and subsequent search of his person, which yielded a bag of meth and drug paraphernalia.

In such a case, an onlooker without knowledge of the law would likely see no issues with the result of that situation.  When the exclusionary rule is introduced, the picture becomes more complicated even if one agrees with the idea that police should have the right to ID people who frequent houses in which drug activity occurs.

The exclusionary rule, for all of the good it does in protecting law-abiding citizens from the potential abuse of power by the police, is not actually implicitly or explicitly outlined anywhere in the U.S. Constitution.  This does not at all mean it should be disregarded -- court precedent alone would negate that possibility -- but it also suggests there are other remedies to potential abuse of power that exist.

The exclusionary rule also increases the possibility of dangerous criminals being freed because these criminals have knowledge of the law and when it is not permissible for law enforcement to conduct searches.  

Judges and juries should therefore be given more leeway to determine whether or not certain types of incriminating evidence obtained outside of the standard boundaries of the Fourth Amendment should be permissible in court.  

Is it possible that some members of law enforcement may try to abuse the exclusionary rule under such a new scenario?  Perhaps, and this is a problem which would need to be dealt with.  But judges and juries should be able to use common sense in individual cases where the incriminating evidence discovered is clearly illegal, as it is in Utah v. Strieff.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: The New York Times, L.A. Times / Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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