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Colorado Innocence blog

What You Need to Know about the Exclusionary Rule and How It Affects Evidence in the Case Against You

Perhaps you’ve seen the exclusionary rule “in action” on your favorite television police drama. It occurs when the defense asks a judge to exclude a piece of evidence, usually because it was illegally obtained. The exciting moment of the episode comes when the defendant is proven guilty even without the tainted evidence.

In real life, the exclusionary rule works much the same, but there is rarely the same drama involved. Judges exempt certain evidence based on how it was obtained. Evidence that was obtained through means that violated the defendant’s rights is known as “fruit from the poisonous tree.” The exclusionary rule not only applies to specific pieces of evidence, it also applies to illegal arrests, illegal wiretapping, and illegal interrogations. Evidence gathered via questionable or outright illegal means cannot be used against a defendant.

There are a few exemptions to the exclusionary rule, so it’s important to not assume if something was questionably obtained it will automatically be thrown out. You’ll need to discuss your concerns about evidence, and your arrest and interrogation with your attorney, so he or she can take the appropriate action on your behalf. However, even if your attorney asks for evidence to be excluded doesn’t mean the judge will decide in your favor.

When might a judge determine that questionably obtained evidence can still be used in the prosecution’s case against you?

Evidence was Obtained in Good Faith

There are times when law enforcement might overstep their boundaries, but if these actions were taken in “good faith,” chances are the evidence will be admissible. For instance, if law enforcement failed to obtain a valid search warrant before gathering evidence, but their actions seemed appropriate and a search warrant would have bene or was eventually granted, what they find can hurt your case.

The Attenuation Doctrine Applies

When the connection between evidence and the way it was illegally obtained is remote, it might be a case of Attenuation Doctrine. For instance, if you are pulled over without a valid reason, but during the traffic stop law enforcement realizes there is a warrant out for your arrest related to a separate crime, the fact the original traffic stop was unjustified is likely to be ignored.

Independent Source Doctrine Applies

If it was possible to obtain the evidence legally it can be used against you, even if law enforcement overstepped their boundaries in obtaining it. To learn more about Independent Source Doctrine, take a look at this article from Policemag.comolicemag.com.

Inevitable Discovery Rule Applies

Had there been a good chance the evidence would have been discovered legally – its discovery was inevitable - it can be used in the prosecution’s case even if it was obtained illegally.

In many of these instances, a judge will use what he or he considers common sense to determine if a piece of evidence is admissible. If it seems as if law enforcement wasn’t trying to break the law to obtain evidence, there’s a good chance it will be admissible. However, a good attorney can argue in your favor in these “iffy” situations and hopefully get evidence that was illegally obtained tossed out.

It’s important to share everything you remember from your arrest and interrogation with your attorney, so he or she can evaluate the circumstances and determine if the exclusionary rule might apply in your case. For more information or to discuss your concerns with an experienced legal professional, contact David Lindsey to schedule a free consultation.

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