The Exclusionary Rule

The Exclusionary Rule

CRJ420 Criminal Justice and the Constitution

Colorado State University Global

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights lays out protections afforded to citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. In order for law enforcement to legally search you or your belongings, they must have either probable cause to do so. The Fourth Amendment was passed by congress in September of 1789 and finally ratified by 1791. The exclusionary rule and the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine strengthen the Fourth Amendment by deterring misconduct by police, further protecting the accused. This report will cover the origins of the exclusionary rule and the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine and how they have been successful in aiding the people and the criminal justice system.


The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree doctrine was established in early 1920 from the case Silverthorne Lumber Co., Inc., et al. v. United States. In this case, the owner of the Silverthorne Lumber Company was cited for contempt because he had refused to produce his books and documents before a grand jury. Silverthorne and his father were then arrested and detained while a U.S. Marshal went to their company and seized all of their documents from the company, Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. U.S., 251 U.S. 385, 40 S.Ct. 182 (1920). An improper warrant was issued prior to the seizure and then a new one was issued based on what was collected once the Marshal returned. The documents were then returned, the Silverthornes were released and then the Court issued a subpoena for the same documents. The Silverthornes again refused, arguing that the Court was benefiting from the original unlawful seizure that provided them with the information needed to issue a “proper” warrant, Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. U.S., 251 U.S. 385, 40 S.Ct. 182 (1920).

Ultimately, it was decided that it is not permissible for the government to benefit from unlawful acts. The term “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” is a metaphor that suggests that if the source, or the ‘tree’, from which the evidence is obtained is tainted, then anything that is gained, or the ‘fruit’, is also tainted. Evidence gathered through the use of police misconduct violates a defendant’s constitutional rights and is therefore inadmissible. Since then, this doctrine has been effective in helping defendant’s rights remain unviolated due to police misconduct.


Similarly to the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree doctrine, the exclusionary rule prevents the government from using evidence that was collected in violation to the constitution. It was the decision of Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684 (1961) that established this rule.

In Mapp v. Ohio, defendant Dollree Mapp was convicted of possessing materials of an obscene nature that were seized during an admittedly illegal police search of her home. The police had gone to her home based on information that an individual wanted in connection with a recent bombing was hiding there. When they arrived they demanded to search the house but Mapp would not allow them without a search warrant, Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684 (1961). After several hours and the arrival of more officers, they once again demanded entrance but did not wait for Mapp to respond before barging in. They showed Mapp a piece of paper from a distance trying to convince her that it was a search warrant and when she tried to examine the document closer they restrained her, Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684 (1961). The officers went through every room in the house.

The decision in this case was that evidence seized in violation to the Fourth Amendment is not admissible at trial. The Supreme Court reviewed multiple cases of the same nature and concluded that in order to deter unlawful police conduct, any evidence seized in violation to the Fourth Amendment is not admissible in court. Over time exceptions to the rule have been put in place but that does not mean that the exclusionary rule has been ineffective.


There are several exceptions to the exclusionary rule, as mentioned before. These exceptions show that our law is an adaptable creature. There is a need for this flexibility even if some people find it to be unfair. The exceptions to this rule are: the Good Faith Exception, the Independent Source Doctrine, the Inevitable Discovery Doctrine, the Attenuation Doctrine, the Evidence Admissible for Impeachment and Qualified Immunity (Samaha, 2018).

The Good Faith Exception will allow evidence collected by officers who reasonably rely on a search warrant that is later determined to be invalid (Jurkowski, 2017).

The Independent Source Doctrine allows evidence originally obtained during an unlawful search if the evidence is later obtained through a constitutionally valid search or seizure (Jurkowski, 2017).

The Inevitable Discovery Doctrine is related to the Independent Source Doctrine. It allows admission of evidence that was discovered in an unlawful search if it would have been discovered in the same condition anyway (Jurkowski, 2017).

The Attenuation Doctrine will allow evidence if the evidence challenged and the unconstitutional conduct is too remote and attenuated, or reduced in effect or value (Jurkowski, 2017).

Evidence Admissible for Impeachment allows the government to introduce illegally gathered evidence to attack the credibility of the defendant’s testimony. This is used as a truth-testing device to prevent perjury (Jurkowski, 2017).

Qualified Immunity is a type of legal immunity that balances two important interests: (1) the need to hold public officials accountable, and (2) the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction and liability when they perform their duties reasonably (Jurkowski, 2017).

The expectations have been established because there have been cases in which the cost of excluding evidence outweighs its remedial benefits (Samaha, 2018). It all comes down to whether or not excluding the evidence would deter officers from future violations of the law. While the rationale of the exclusionary rule is based on constitutional rights, it is still just a court-created remedy and/or deterrent to police misconduct (Samaha, 2018). The exclusionary rule is not a constitutional right.


Even though the exclusionary rule and the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree doctrine were implemented to protect our constitutional rights, there are pro’s and con’s to both. The biggest pro to these additions to the Fourth Amendment is that they, in a sense, force law enforcement to remain honest and to follow the law just like everyone else. When officers are doing the right thing, it doesn’t matter if a case is won or lost, it shows that we can count on our law enforcement to do the right thing. Sometimes that alone is more important than anything. Another pro is that both limit the power of the government, which at one point in our history was a little unchecked.

A con of the exclusionary rule, as some see it, is that the rule only applies to criminal cases (Samaha, 2018). Additionally, they can both be rather costly to taxpayers, as more administrative work is required to conduct everything according to the law, which costs time, and time is money (Samaha, 2018).

The exclusionary rule and the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree doctrine were established at different points in American history to help protect the Fourth Amendment rights of the people. Prior to their implementation, Fourth Amendment rights were constantly violated and the people could do nearly nothing to defend themselves from the government. Additionally, both the exclusionary rule and the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree doctrine are flexible to different situations; this helps protect law enforcement and defendants. They are both very important documents that have changed law enforcement, and the government in general, for the better.


Jurkowski, S. (2017, June). Exclusionary Rule. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from

Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684 (1961)

Samaha, J. (2018). Criminal Procedure (10th ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. U.S., 251 U.S. 385, 40 S.Ct. 182 (1920)

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