In a couple of our recent blog posts, we covered the exclusionary rule, and how it can be a great tool to use to defend against a criminal charge. If police found evidence that you committed a crime, but violated your Fourth Amendment rights in order to get that evidence, the exclusionary rule can be used to prevent the evidence from ever being heard in court. This can make a huge difference in the outcome of a criminal trial, because it's up to the prosecutor to prove every aspect of their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Without a piece of evidence, they are often left unable to satisfy this burden.
However, the exclusionary rule is not without holes. There is one crucial exception to the rule that allows police to violate your rights under the Fourth Amendment, and yet still present the evidence that they found in court. This exception applies whenever police think, in good faith, that they are justified in conducting a search.
The Exclusionary Rule's Good Faith Exception
In order for evidence that is only found after an “unreasonable” search or seizure – which therefore violates the Fourth Amendment – to still be heard in court, the police officers who infringed on your rights must have done so in a good faith belief that their search was proper.
An Example of the Good Faith Exception
One way that this can happen is if police are executing a search warrant that they think is valid, but which is actually not.
When police are investigating a crime, they often have enough time to plan and execute a search for evidence. When this is the case, they often go to a judge or magistrate and tell them what the search would be for and why they have probable cause to do it. If the judge agrees that there is probable cause, then he or she will issue the search warrant. Armed with the warrant, police can then conduct the search without worry that they are violating someone's Fourth Amendment rights.
However, judges can make mistakes, too. If, during the subsequent trial, the search warrant that led to incriminating evidence is challenged, and it gets determined that there was not, in fact, probable cause to conduct the search, then the search would have violated the Fourth Amendment. However, because the police had executed the warrant in good faith that it was valid, the evidence found will not be excluded from trial.
Maine Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly
The exclusionary rule is one of the most crucial aspects in criminal defense. If used properly, it can prevent you from being convicted for a crime because of police overreaching. However, it is not without its flaws and holes. The good faith exception to the exclusionary rule does not come up very often, but it is, nevertheless, one more piece of the complex puzzle that makes up the world of criminal defense.