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What is the Exclusionary Rule?

Published By | Dec 5, 2022 | 4th amendment, Arrest, Criminal Defense, Criminal record, Federal court, Misdemeanor, Search warrant, Seizure

To better understand the exclusionary rule, it is helpful to first review the constitutional amendment upon which the rule is founded. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement and other government agents. This means that you are protected from any government activity that would violate the amendment. However, if you do happen to find yourself subjected to an unconstitutional search, the exclusionary rule swoops in to save the day.

A Quick History: How Case Law Influenced the Exclusionary Rule

The Supreme Court case Mapp v. Ohio (1961) helped to define the scope of the exclusionary rule. In Mapp, the Supreme Court held that the exclusionary rule applied to state prosecution of crimes. This upheld the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of illegal search and seizures and exclusion of any evidence from admission at trial that was collected during a prohibited search. In Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the exclusionary rule was applied to self-incriminating statements as well. In Miranda, the Supreme Court held that confessions to crimes were inadmissible if obtained in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The Court also held in Miranda that the exclusionary rule applied to situations where evidence was gained in violation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel. However, the Supreme Court concluded inINS v. Lopez-Mendoza (1984) that the exclusionary rule does not apply to civil trials, including deportation hearings.

The exclusionary rule impacts the entire chain of collected evidence. If law enforcement officers find new evidence because of evidence that was collected unconstitutionally, newfound evidence will be excluded from admission, too. If new evidence comes to light because of previous evidence that was illegally obtained, the new evidence is subject to the exclusionary rule.

“Good Faith”: An Exception to the Exclusionary Rule

Despite the breadth of protection that the exclusionary rule purports to offer, an exception to the rule could effectively eliminate your Fourth Amendment rights. The “good faith” exception to the exclusionary rule applies when law enforcement officers conduct an illegal search while reasonably relying on an invalid search warrant. The “good faith” exception also applies when law enforcement officers rely on statutes that are later invalidated, when police employees err in maintaining warrants in their database, and when law enforcement officers rely on binding appellate precedent that allowed the search.


Applying these rules to real life, you are protected by the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule from any evidence that was obtained unconstitutionally. In criminal proceedings, your defense attorney will object to any evidence subject to exclusion with a pre-trial motion. If the motion is unsuccessful and the prosecution still attempts to admit the evidence during trial, your attorney could then challenge its admission on appeal. If no exception applies to the evidence you think should be excluded, the exclusionary rule will intervene to protect you from illegally obtained evidence under the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments.