Policeman with a K-9 unit dog preparing for a search.

What Is the ‘Exclusionary Rule?’

By Joel Hancock

Can illegally obtained evidence be used against you at trial? The simple answer is “no.” When you are charged with a crime, all evidence presented at trial must have been obtained in a legal manner; any illegally obtained evidence may not be presented. This is called the “exclusionary rule.”

The exclusionary rule was established as a means to protect a defendant’s rights by deterring law enforcement from conducting any illegal searches and seizures of property. In order for the exclusionary rule to apply, your lawyer must demonstrate (provide proof) that the acquisition of the property in question was collected in violation of your constitutional rights. If the court denies the request to suppress evidence that has been illegally obtained, should you be convicted, you may file an appeal. 

Your Fourth Amendment Rights

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution serves to protect you from the unreasonable search and seizure of your personal property. In order for a search to be considered legal, law enforcement must have a warrant permitting them to do so. Evidence collected without first obtaining a warrant to search could be considered a violation of your rights under the constitution. 

The only way in which an officer can conduct a search (and seizure) legally without a warrant is if he or she has probable cause. Probable cause essentially means that there is reasonable evidence to believe that a crime has been or is currently being committed. For instance, if an officer pulls you over for speeding and sees drug paraphernalia in the backseat of your vehicle, and if they find drugs, it may be a legal search and therefore admissible evidence. However, law enforcement must have had an additional reason for believing that a crime had or is being committed; the act of pulling you over for speeding would not create probable cause of drug possession. There must be separate probable cause.

Exceptions to the Exclusionary Rule

It is very important to understand that dependent upon the circumstances of each case, there may have been an exception to the exclusionary rule. Such exceptions include the:

  • Good Faith Exception: If an officer conducted a search that was later found to be invalid it may be admissible.
  • Attenuation Doctrine: If the connection between the evidence and the unconstitutional way it was obtained was remote it may be admissible.
  • Independent Source Doctrine: If evidence was obtained unlawfully but later acquired through a legal search, it may be admissible.
  • Inevitable Discovery Doctrine: If illegally obtained evidence would have been lawfully obtained under different circumstances it may be admissible.

Attorney Joel Hancock at Hancock Law Firm, PLLC Helps Those in North Carolina Who Have Been Charged with a Crime

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, it can have a severe and long-lasting impact on your life. That’s why it is in your best interest to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced North Carolina criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. 

At Hancock Law Firm, PLLC, we fully understand what is at stake and will do everything that we can to help you fight your charge. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!

About the Author
Joel Hancock is a native of Carteret County, NC. He devotes 100% of his practice to defending those accused of traffic infractions, DWI, misdemeanors, and felonies in Carteret County, NC.