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Michigan Criminal Law Blog

What is the Exclusionary Rule?

Most people are somewhat familiar with the exclusionary rule, even if they aren’t sure exactly how it works or that it even has an official title.

The exclusionary rule is used to exclude a piece of evidence from a trial. Some people know it from television crime dramas - it’s used because the defense has requested a piece of evidence – often obtained illegally – not be used against his or her client. Many times, the plot twist comes when the prosecution is able to prove guilt even without the ill-gotten evidence in question, and everything is wrapped up with a neat, tidy bow.

Obviously, scenarios involving the exclusionary rule in real life can be quite a bit different than what you see on TV.

The reason why a judge rules to exclude certain evidence is because it is considered “fruit of the poisonous tree.” This means it came to the prosecution through “poisonous” or illegal means and its exclusion ensures the defendant’s basic rights are not violated. Evidence that was obtained through an action that violated the defendant’s Constitutional rights is not supposed to be used against him or her.

In addition to excluding unlawfully gathered evidence against you, the rule also ensures your protection against illegal arrest, illegal wiretapping, or illegal interrogations. Any evidence gathered after an illegal arrest or via an illegal means cannot be used against you.

Of course, there are exceptions to the exclusionary rule, and it’s important to understand these exceptions. In the real world, there are times in which you’ll believe you are being treated unfairly or your rights are being violated, but the court will see it differently because of an exception.

What are some of the most common exceptions?

Good Faith

If law enforcement is able to show actions were taken in “good faith,” even if a valid warrant was not obtained prior to a search, evidence found during the technically warrant-less search could still be used against you.

Attenuation Doctrine

If there is only a remote connection between a piece of evidence and the way in which it was illegally obtained, it could be used against you. A good example of this is if you are pulled over by law enforcement without a valid reason, but law enforcement determines there is a warrant out for your arrest during the traffic stop.

Inevitable Discovery Rule

If evidence would have been discovered eventually through legal means, it can be used against you even if it was initially obtained illegally.

Independent Source Doctrine

If evidence could have been obtained legally it can be used against you even if law enforcement technically obtained it illegally.

For a closer look at independent source doctrine from the viewpoint of law enforcement, check out this article from Policemag.com.

During your consultation with your attorney, you’ll discuss the circumstances surrounding your arrest and he or she will determine if the exclusionary rule applies to any of the evidence being used against you. Through the course of building your case, there might be additional instances in which the exclusionary rule might apply.

If you have questions about the exclusionary rule or you need to speak to someone about an arrest or charges against you, contact Andrew W. Kowalkowski, PLLC at 248.974.9594.

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