the exclusionary rule | Law Assignment Help

19 November 2020 the exclusionary rule | Law Assignment Help


The efficacy of the law of evidence rests on the evolution and development of evidential requirements of statutory and expert testimony. The adoption of scientific methods in the corpus of evidence law has brought a substantive change in the administration of justice in criminal cases (Carlson, Imwinkelried, Kionka, & Strachan, 2007) (Goodwin & Gurule, 2002). For instance, through the reliance of DNA techniques it is more probable and possible to prove charges such as rape and theft. On the same note, Courts have moved towards taking a judicial notice of scientific testimony viz DNA in criminal trials. On the other hand, sceptics cite doctoring of evidence as a key reason why such evidence should be inadmissible in Courts of Law. Generally, the proponents and opponents of admissibility of scientific expert evidence differ not on grounds of irrelevance but rather on grounds of admissibility. Based on the foregoing statements, it is plausible to aver that rules of evidence should be admissible and relevant as long as the legality of obtaining the alleged evidence can be proved on a standard beyond reasonable doubt. Additionally, the evidence should be procured and produced within a context of rule of law that finds a balance between constitutionalism, legality and human dignity. This discussion seeks to analyze and distinguish the exclusionary rule against a background of the doctrine of fruit of the poisonous tree; and how the two doctrines affect admissibility of evidence.


Qn 1: Describe 1) the exclusionary rule, and 2) the “fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine,” including an explanation of how they differ.

The federal rules of evidence operate under a strict regime that allows for the admissibility or rejection of evidence in different instances. Constitutional overrides act as a sieve for admissibility and test criteria for the relevance of admitted evidence (Carlson, Imwinkelried, Kionka, & Strachan, 2007). Negative overrides serve to bar otherwise admissible evidence while affirmative overrides serve the opposite role of facilitating the admission of conventionally inadmissible evidence.

The exclusionary rule is an evidentiary privilege that operates as a negative override by barring the prosecution from producing and adducing illegally obtained evidence that denies or violates the accused’s constitutional right as enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment is a constituent part of the Bill of Rights of the United States. The Amendment provides that:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The exclusionary rule disallows the government from relying on evidence gathered in contravention of the Constitution with respect to evidence scoured from an unreasonable search or seizure as stipulated in the Fourth Amendment. See Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961). An illegal or unreasonable search is inclusive of a warrantless search or a search conducted contra to a warrant. The exclusionary rule cushions one against trials that rely on evidence obtained in illegal or unreasonable searches as stipulated in the Fourth Amendment. Upon the accused proving the violation of the Fourth Amendment, the evidence obtained is “excluded” or “suppressed” in the trial under the exclusionary rule.

In Wong Sun v. United States 371 U.S. 471 (1963), the Supreme Court held evidence obtained from an illegal arrest or search is a product of illegality, hence a  fruit of the poisonous tree. Such evidence extends to information and physical evidence. The fruit of the poisonous tree bolsters the exclusionary rule by negating evidence obtained from evidence gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment (Goodwin & Gurule, 2002). In a nutshell, the “poisonous tree” is evidence that is first discovered through the maiden breach of the Fourth Amendment. The evidence that is discovered later on using evidence obtained from the unreasonable or illegal arrest, search or seizure form the “fruit”.

The violation of the Fourth Amendment negates the admissibility and relevance value of any evidence that is traceable to the illegal search or seizure. Such evidence is deemed a fruit of the poisonous tree to which Courts are expected to take judicial notice of inadmissibility. The exclusionary rule thus works in cohorts with the fruit of the poisonous tree during trials to prevent production and reliance upon illegally obtained evidence.


Qn 2: Application of the exclusionary rule and/or “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine in relation to the evidence recovered in A Case of “Who did it?”

What is the criterion for an accused to successfully appeal to the Fourth Amendment? The Fourth Amendment exists to protect American citizens from arbitrary and unreasonable searches and seizures conducted by the government. Nevertheless, the Constitution does not exist to defeat justice. As such, this part argues that based on the exceptions to the exclusionary rule or fruit of the poisonous tree finds no application in this case.

            The search on Ms Ellis premises that lead to the discovery of the prints incriminating William was conducted in the color of the law. Were it not for Ms Ellis’ call to the police the search would not have proceeded. This shows that the search was neither unreasonable nor illegal thus denying a place to the exclusionary rule since the evidence was obtained in a reasonable way during the performance of normal police duties.

 Exceptions to the doctrine of the fruit of the poisonous tree allow for the admissibility of illegally obtained evidence (Rice & Katriel, 2009). Evidence is not subject to exclusion (1) where the discovery was inevitable independent of the illegal search; (2) if there is an attenuated taint between the illegal activity and discovery of the evidence; or (3) if the discovery is attributable to an independent source.

            On a probative scale, the police were bound to discover the evidence. This waters down the application of the poisonous fruit doctrine as evinced in the exception that allows for the application of evidence gleaned in instances where its discovery was inevitable.

            The resort to the exclusionary rule and poisonous fruits doctrine offers a manifest challenge to the fair administration of public justice. It raises the question on the utility of justice viz judicial expediency and personal freedom (Goodwin & Gurule, 2002) (Rice & Katriel, 2009). Maybe it is time legislators moved towards liberalized evidentiary standards that discount constitutional provisions


Qn 3: If police conduct an illegal search, are they civilly liable for their actions?

State and public officers are required by law to act intra vires with breaches of the constitutional provisions attracting civil and/or criminal liability. A victim of police misconduct or excesses has a legal recourse in the Courts. Civil actions lie in police misconduct and the aggrieved parties can sue for compensatory and punitive damages.

Under the good faith doctrine police are generally immune from suits unless the aggrieved party can prove that the conduct amounted to wilful, unreasonable acts as opposed to acts committed in the performance of job (Carlson, Imwinkelried, Kionka, & Strachan, 2007). Negligence and undue exercise of care do not muster enough grounds for a tort liability (Rice & Katriel, 2009). However, the aggrieved party has a duty to prove that the said police act wilfully violated his or her constitutional right as encapsulated in the Fourth Amendment.

Compensatory damages can be sought where the illegal search or seizure resulted into damage on person or chattel. A tort can also be enforced to compensate for both suffering and pain, and loss of income. Punitive damages are enforceable in instances of malicious prosecution. Overall, the aggrieved party must rely on the but for test to prove that the police misconduct resulted into a sort of harm.


Qn 4:  Briefly describe the steps that you would have taken as a responding officer to the Ellis scene to ensure the admissibility of all evidence.

The admissibility of evidence rests on both its relevance and sufficiency. This necessitates a responding officer to conduct a regular investigation that not only preserves the integrity of the scene but also upholds the constitutional rights of bystanders and victims of the crime in the pursuit of criminal justice.

To establish the logical relevance of the evidence, firstly I would survey the crime scene and require that all civilians vacate the crime scene so as to preserve the integrity of the crime scene. I would search the scene for both physical and biological evidence before commissioning the photography and sketching of the crime scene. I would oversee the collection of evidence and safe storage of collected evidence in a bid to protect the legal integrity of the evidence. See State v. Roszkowski, 129 N.J.  Super. 315, 323 A2d 531 (App.Div. 1974).

To regularise the evidence gathering, I would file for a warrant of arrest for William Ellis. I would read William’s his Miranda Rights before affecting his arrest after which I would bring him for questioning into the police station (Rice & Katriel, 2009). I would ensure that William has an attorney during the questioning.

The DNA evidence incriminating William would be well preserved so as to increase its legal relevance. Summoned as a witness, I would testify to the chain of custody for the blood and fingerprint recovered at the crime scene up until the laboratory analysis. See State v. Johnson, 90 N.J. Super. 105, 216 A.2d 397 (App.Div.1965), aff'd 46 N.J. 289, 216 A.2d 392 (1966). I would procure a forensic expert to adduce evidence that the accused’s print and DNA matches the print and DNA recovered at the crime scene.





Carlson, R. L., Imwinkelried, E. J., Kionka, E. J., & Strachan, K. (2007). Evidence: Teaching Materials for an Age of Science and Statutes. Lexis Nexis.

Goodwin, R. J., & Gurule, J. (2002). Criminal and Scientific Evidence: Cases, Materials, Problems. Lexis Nexis.

Rice, P. R., & Katriel, R. A. (2009). Evidence: Common Law and Federal Rules of Evidence. LexisNexis.




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