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USCA1 Rejects Novel Attempt to Expand Suppression of Evidence

| 2 Comments
For many years, the U.S. Supreme Court has been pruning back one of the most repugnant notions of criminal procedure -- the idea that a clearly guilty criminal can suppress rock-solid reliable evidence of his crime on the basis of how it was obtained.  If someone violated a law in the process of obtaining that evidence, that person should be prosecuted or sued for the violation, but it is utterly irrelevant to the justice of the case at hand -- whether the defendant did or did not commit the crime of which he is accused.

On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston rejected a novel attempt to expand the exclusion of evidence instead of retract it.  The home of "tax protestor" Charles Adams was searched by IRS agents with a search warrant.  Under U.S. v. Leon, a warrant itself is generally sufficient to defeat any claim of exclusion, except in highly unusual circumstances, but Adams made the creative claim that because the agents were armed and were not authorized to be armed, the evidence must be suppressed.

"Huh?" you might ask.  That's pretty much what the court said, but of course more judicially.
The court skipped past the question of whether the agents' guns really were unauthorized and got straight to the remedy question.

Suppression of evidence is strong medicine, not to be dispensed casually....  In conducting this inquiry, we remain mindful that "[t]he exclusionary rule was not fashioned to vindicate a broad, general right to be free of agency action not 'authorized' by law, but rather to protect certain specific, constitutionally protected rights of individuals." ...  The cases in which the Supreme Court has approved a suppression remedy for statutory violations are hen's-teeth rare,and "[i]n those cases, the excluded evidence arose directly out of statutory violations that implicated important Fourth and Fifth Amendment interests." Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon, 548 U.S. 331, 348 (2006). We conclude, therefore, that statutory violations, untethered to the abridgment of constitutional rights, are not sufficiently egregious to justify suppression....

2 Comments

Kent,

Why do you believe that the USCA1's holding that the exclusionary rule does not apply to statutory (as opposed to constitutional) violations was somehow "novel"?

Hasn't that conclusion been reached by almost every appellate court to address the issue?

And how would you go about determining if rock-solid evidence (I assume you include evidence obtained in violation of the constitution and/or a statute?) was "reliable," thereby rendering the remedy of exclusion unavailable? By analyzing it in relation to the other legally obtained evidence?

Paul,

The defendant's claim was novel. The decision rejecting it was entirely mainstream.

The Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule and kindred doctrines reject evidence for reasons having nothing whatever to do with its reliability. This often, indeed usually, means evidence with no reliability issues. I do not propose creating yet another exception to Mapp for particularly reliable evidence. I think Mapp should be overruled.

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