An arrest can be a life-halting experience that leaves you more shocked and vulnerable than ever before. Worse yet, if the details of your arrest are shaky at best, you may start to believe you were arrested under false pretenses. Even worse, maybe the police obtained some evidence without your knowledge after entering your home without a warrant.
Luckily, the Constitution and its surrounding principles have your rights in mind regarding illegally obtained evidence. Read on to learn more about:
- Your Constitutional Rights and How They Govern Evidence;
- Using the Exclusionary Rule to Your Advantage in Court; and
- Hiring an Attorney Who Will Help Your Defend Yourself.
The Constitutionality of Evidence and Your Rights
At the core of the legal discussion surrounding evidence in the United States is the Constitution—and look no further than the Fourth Amendment, which does a few things:
- Prevents against unnecessary search and seizure by the government;
- Protects citizens from unreasonable and baseless arrests; and
- Lays the foundation for privacy laws, as in cases of nonconsensual surveillance, search warrants, and other types of evidence-gathering methods used by law enforcement agencies.
Your right to privacy is an important one, especially as it relates to illegally obtained evidence. Police barge into your house and start flipping dressers and drawers looking for a single piece of incriminating evidence? An easy case of a fourth amendment violation (and an admittedly hyperbolized one).
What is important to keep in mind with the fourth amendment is not fringe and extreme cases, but rather what it does allow for under the law: search warrants. See, search and seizure by the government is legal—they just need probable cause and a search warrant to do it. So if they have that, they’ ae allowed to search your home.
Any evidence found to be obtained in violation of a person’s fourth amendment rights may be struck from the court through the Exclusionary Rule—something we will talk about later. In addition, any additional evidence law enforcement gained from the initial rights violation is considered Fruit of the Poisonous Tree—a term coined in Wong Sun v. United States (1963). In this, both the illegally seized evidence and additionally obtained evidence are considered inadmissible at court.
You can also look towards the Sixth Amendment for additional constitutional references to illegally obtained evidence. A person’s right to counsel gives them the constitutional right to have a criminal defense attorney to assist in their defense against any allegations.
How might someone violate this? In the United States v. Henry (1980), police paid the defendant’s cellmate to listen in for any possibly incriminating comments made by the defendant to use in court. Because Henry effectively had no counsel and would not have made the statements if he knew his cellmate was working for the police, all evidence related to the cellmate was inadmissible.
These are two cases where the Constitution can and will protect your rights through what is known as…
The Exclusionary Rule: When Evidence Gets Thrown Out
Many Supreme Court cases shaped the legal principle behind the exclusionary rule’s usage in cases of evidence.
You may know about a person’s “Miranda Rights,” or the speech a police officer gives after arresting a person informing them of their rights. This includes the famous: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”
The Supreme Court found in the original Miranda v. Arizona case that any self-incriminating evidence may not be admissible in a trial if the police do not inform a person of their constitutional rights. This is where the exclusionary rule kicks in.
The rule prevents the government—be it law enforcement or a prosecuting attorney—from using gathered evidence that violated the defendant’s constitutional rights. Any Amendment applicable falls under the purview of the exclusionary rule; if your lawyer can argue it, chances are it’ll get thrown out. Our aforementioned Fruit of the Poisonous Tree principle is a derivative of this rule.
It’s important to know that this rule is a deterrent, not a piece of the Constitution. Any type of illegal search and seizure is something the exclusionary rule blocks, but there will always be the potential for exceptions—and yes, there are situations where the Supreme Court ruled in favor of exceptions to the exclusionary rule:
- The Good Faith Exception in the case of law enforcement relying on a warrant or statute later invalidated;
- The Independent Source Doctrine allows unlawfully obtained evidence to be admissible if later found through a valid search or seizure;
- The Attenuation Doctrine allows evidence to be admissible if there is an unclear relationship between the challenged evidence and alleged unconstitutional conduct; and
- The Evidence Admissible for Impeachment Exception allows illegally gathered evidence to question or attack a defendant’s testimony to prevent perjury. They may only use it for impeachment, however, and not to prove guilt.
Keep a close eye on any evidence used against you, though. You have a constitutional to know about its nature and how it’s being used. If you suspect foul play in how law enforcement obtained it, call your attorney to discuss your options.
Facing the Evidence in Court and Having a Strong Attorney On-Board
Here’s the thing about criminal defense attorneys: they know their stuff when it comes to giving you the edge in a case. A major part of that edge comes from a thorough examination of evidence to see if the police illegally obtained any of it during their search and seizure of your property.
Arguing against evidence is a common thing for defense attorneys, and they know your constitutional rights inside and out. In addition, attorneys can be well-connected and use their resources to get to the bottom of where your evidence came from—whether that comes in the form of contacting law enforcement officers or conducting their own research.
A skilled criminal defense attorney will go the extra mile for you and attempt to remove your case altogether. If you know the police mishandled your case, and your lawyer can prove it, you’ve got a pretty good chance of coming out victorious.
Contact our offices for a free initial consultation if you’re facing charges backed by illegally obtained evidence. Our attorneys are some of the most aggressive and diligent ones you can hire. Not only do they care about justice, they care about you and your future. Call us today!