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Exclusionary Rule Back On the Chopping Block

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I cringe whenever I see that the Roberts Court is taking a case like this:

In theory, a criminal-law doctrine known as the exclusionary rule forbids prosecutors from using evidence obtained by the police as the result of an improper search. In practice, the rule has significant exceptions, like for evidence obtained in good faith through reliance on an invalid search warrant or as the result of erroneous information from a court official.

Justices on the current Supreme Court have made no secret of their desire to carve more exceptions out of the nearly 100-year-old exclusionary rule. On Tuesday, the court accepted a new case that could provide a route toward that goal.

The question in the case is whether the list of exceptions should be expanded to include evidence obtained from a search undertaken by officers relying on a careless record-keeping error by the police.

As Greenhouse points out, the disdain expressed for the exclusionary rule in the Hudson decision last year, which in yet another manifestation of the War On (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs being where civil liberties go to die refused to apply the exclusionary rule to illegal “no-knock” searches, makes clear that this decision is unlikely to be favorable to the protection of civil liberties. The Rehnquist Court has already held that — for no remotely convincing reason — the exclusionary rule shouldn’t be applied when the illegality was the result of a bad warrant rather than directly illegal police behavior. It seems pretty obvious that an even more reactionary court that illegal behavior by one branch of the police won’t require evidence obtained by other police officers as the result of the illegality to be suppressed. The fake-minimalist Roberts Court won’t overturn the exclusionary rule, just continue to gut it.

I explained last year why I think reducing the exclusionary rule to an empty shell is a bad thing. To repeat, “[w]hen Congress passes the “Ice Cream Castles In The Air. And A Pony!” act creating an effective, viable civil remedy for this particular violation of the 4th Amendment I might happily join” opponents of the exclusionary rule, but until then it’s the best remedy available. And it’s misleading to claim that the rule can’t benefit innocent victims; this is true in individual cases, but the larger effect of the exclusionary rule is to encourage professionalism and legality by the state by removing incentives to violate rights. The trend of the Rehnquist and Roberts Courts making it clear that the police can usually find a way to get illegally obtained evidence admitted creates the opposite incentives.

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