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S. Edmund Johnson

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Why Can't Improperly Obtained Evidence Be Used In A Criminal Trial?

In the United States (and possibly other countries as well), whenever evidence in a criminal case is obtained improperly, it is not admissible for trial, and is thrown out. When I say 'improperly', I'm referring to evidence obtained without proper procedure, search warrant, etc. In many cases, this has led to the guilty party not being brought to justice. Not being a lawyer, but rather an engineer with a reasonably logical mind, I find that this practice is totally illogical. I mean, evidence is evidence. There is no real logic in restricting evidence.

I can't believe that this tenet of law was actually written as such, but rather I believe that it had to have been some sort of precedent created by some judge or jurist. And it may have been descended down from old English law. But somewhere along the line, some totally illogical person thought it would be a good way to discourage the police from abusing their powers. In other words, punishing the police. Unfortunately, it is not the police that are punished, but rather the public.

So I actually have three points/questions here:
• Why not instead say, evidence is evidence, and whether obtained legally or illegally, why should it not still be used in a criminal trial?
• And if the evidence was obtained illegally, then why not punish the police with suitable jail time or suitable fines in order to discourage the abuse of police powers?
• Finally, why cannot this tenet of law be struck down with a new law that allows ALL evidence to be used in a trial, and establish proper punishment for any abuses used in obtaining the evidence?

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  • Aug 30 2012: Because individuals have rights. Just as I have a right to a fair trial, defend myself from charges, and to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Take this extreme example. I am accused of killing someone. The police is pretty sure I am guilty and that my wife knows this and is hiding evidence. They are given warrants and nothing turns up and my wife is silent. They grab her and torture her to get her to talk. She talks. Evidence is uncovered and I am put to death.

    What is wrong with this picture? When do we allow the state to infringe on citizen's rights? Are you for torture?

    Different example. I am a Wall Street tycoon. I create a ponzy scheme and I get rich. Things go south and I am accused of defrauding people. The police has reason to think I did it. So they decide to break on my apartment and get the evidence on my PC without a warrant... well, if I am not guilty until proven guilty, aren't they violating my rights? Can they? More importantly should they?

    Last example? Baltazar Garzon in Spain. The just justice Judge decided to allow police to record conversations between defendants and their lawyers because he was sure they (the lawyers) were involved in criminal activities. In the end the Spanish supreme court revoked his status as a judge. Why? because he violated the defendants rights.

    The point is... if you are going to administer justice you need to do so in a manner that is strict and uniform. In law, when rules are broken there are consequences designed for the system to work as best as it can.
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      Aug 30 2012: Geeez people! Get off the torture theme. Do you really think that if somebody wanted to do torture, that they would be deterred by the fact that they might lose a case? Come on. There are safeguards against torture now, and they would remain in place then. Changing the admission of improperly obtained evidence wouldn't change that. The police would still be subject to jail and/or fines in either case.

      The "Exclusionary Rule" (I finally found out that this is the law principle that I have been talking about) does nothing to protect citizen's rights. It only allows evidence to be inadmissible. If police wanted to intentionally violate civil rights, they can do that now.
      • Aug 31 2012: Well, for one, I love torture. That's why I read a lot of TED's posts. But I digress...

        It is about citizen's constitutional rights protection from government officials and from self-incrimination. This rule is very limited as well. The point is, you can't have the cake and eat it. If you want to ensure a level of impartiality and fairness in law then you must agree that citizens should have the same rights when they enter a court of law. If law enforcement is 'allowed' to break the law to obtain evidence, then your rights are trampled.

        Take Miranda warnings. Why would you have such a warning? Because the constitution says so. Fifth amendment. Same source of exclusionary rule.

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