In some criminal cases, especially drug-related cases, the police may obtain evidence of the crime through an illegal search or seizure. Evidence includes the drugs themselves and drug paraphernalia. It can include instruments of a crime such as weapons. It can include chemical tests, cash, property, and other physical evidence.
The exclusionary rule generally holds that the prosecution cannot use illegally seized evidence in court to prove a defendant committed a crime. The rule dates back to the Supreme Court decision of Mapp v. Ohio, decided in 1961. The rule applies to evidence illegally obtained because of:
- Illegal searches and seizures – in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S Constitution
- Illegally obtained statements and confessions – in violation of the Fifth Amendment
- Illegally obtained evidence due to a violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
The aim of the rule is to deter the police from violating your basic Constitutional rights.
If your Tennessee criminal defense lawyer believes your Constitutional rights were violated, the attorney will file a motion to suppress the evidence. A hearing will be held to determine how the evidence was seized and whether your Constitutional rights were breached. If the evidence was crucial to the prosecution’s case, then the suppression of the evidence may mean that the criminal charges must be dismissed. Alternatively, suppression of evidence can make it much easier to negotiate a favorable plea agreement.
The rule also applies to secondary evidence that was seized due to information obtained from the primary illegal Constitutional violation. In short, any evidence obtained after the initial wrong is considered illegal because it’s “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
Exceptions to the exclusionary rule
There are a few exceptions that the prosecution will try to assert to prevent the suppression of the evidence. These exceptions include:
- A good faith exception. If the police acted in “good faith,” then there may be situations where the evidence is permitted. Whether good faith can be asserted and whether it applies depends on Supreme Court law, federal law, and Tennessee law. The prosecution will argue justice shouldn’t be punished because the police made an honest mistake. The defense will argue that there should be no exceptions – that the burden should be on the police to properly apply the law. While Tennessee does not recognize the good faith exception in many cases, our courts have begun applying it to search warrants.
- The independent source exception. Evidence may be ruled admissible if the evidence is later obtained through a legal search and seizure or other legal means.
- Inevitable discovery exception. Evidence may be allowed into the court case if another line of independent investigation would have led to it.
- Impeachment of a witness. The exclusionary rule generally applies to suppressing evidence of a crime. To prevent perjury though, courts may allow the evidence to be used to impeach the credibility of a witness. Credibility is whether the witness’s testimony should be believed. Defense lawyers will generally argue that impeachment evidence is really being used as a back-door way to prove the defendant committed the crime.
Other exceptions, depending on current case law and arguments before the trial judge, may apply. Defense lawyers work aggressively to limit these exceptions and keep evidence inadmissible.
The police must obey the law. They must protect your Constitutional rights. They must inform you of your Miranda rights. The Sevierville criminal defense attorneys at Delius & McKenzie, PLLC assert every defense possible. We make persuasive legal arguments. We contest noncredible facts. Call us at (865) 428-8780 or fill out our contact form to discuss the charges filed against you. We provide strong representation for clients in Sevierville, Seymour, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge.