Are you able to say, “Hey, you violated my Fourth Amendment rights, so you can’t arrest me” to the cop on the street right after he finds drugs? Not a chance. Will the cop’s supervisor say, “Whoa, officer, you were out of line by taking that evidence without probable cause, so we’re letting your suspect go,” immediately upon getting to the police station? Not likely.
So, practically speaking, how is the Fourth Amendment enforced in real life? The answer is – the exclusionary rule.
What Does the Exclusionary Rule Do?
While the phrase “exclusionary rule” has a legalese kind of vibe to it, the phrase actually says exactly what it is. The exclusionary rule is a rule of law in which evidence is excluded from your trial if it is obtained by the cops in violation of the Constitution.
In other words, if the cops violate your Fourth Amendment rights (or your Fifth Amendment rights, which we will talk about later) then the evidence that resulted from the unlawful search cannot be used in the State’s case against you. That often means that your case will be completely dismissed. Why? Because the cops and prosecutor cannot prosecute you for possessing drugs at trial without using the drugs as evidence.
Where Did the Exclusionary Rule Come From?
The exclusionary rule is not written in the Constitution. Rather, in 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case called Mapp v. Ohio. Mapp is a very famous case because it is the case where the Supreme Court announced the exclusionary rule.
The way that a judge would find out about whether a search and seizure was unreasonable, and therefore illegal, is to hold a hearing based on a criminal defendant’s “motion to suppress evidence.”
It might sound crazy now, but before the year 1961, cops were able to testify that they stopped people for little or no reason, searched them, and found drugs. The drugs were then allowed as evidence at trial – regardless of whether the search was reasonable or not. But, because of Mapp, we thankfully now have the exclusionary rule that is meant to protect citizens from overreaching cops who try to get around our constitutional protections during drug investigations.
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