The exclusionary rule is a legal concept the goal of which is to deter wrongful law enforcement practice. The legal standard of exclusion prevents the admissiblity of proposed evidence acquired in contravention of a citizen’s constitutional rights. Based on the exclusionary rule’s dictates, evidence that is unconstitutionally seized is inadmissible within a future prosecution deriving from the police misconduct.
This wrongfully obtained evidence or “fruits of the poisonous tree” ( an often cited term recited by lawyers to reference a line of a supreme court justice espousing the rationale behind the exclusionary rule) are also not admitted into evidence within a prosecution unless the costs of preventing the evidence are outbalanced by the deterrent effect exclusion would have on police misconduct. These “Fruits of the poisonous tree” refers to evidence seized unlawfully as a result of, and only because of an initial inadmissable search and seizure not based upon sufficient probable cause in violation of the fourth amendment.
For example, if a traffic stop was unlawful, any evidence derived from that traffic stop will be inadmissible in a court of law. However, the United States Supreme Court has limited such a blanket detrmination to previously decided cases holding that the exclusionary rule does not uniformly apply to unlawful automobile searches prior to 2009.
For police to legally detain an automobile, respective officers must first have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to do so. Absent such a finding, the traffic stop and detention will be unlawful. Reasonable suspicion is justified when law enforcement have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or involvement in a completed crime, supported by articulable facts.
Law enforcement officials need to possess more than a guess that unlawful conduct occurred or is occurring. If the officer meets a level of articulable suspicion such that a reasonable person could believe that a crime had occurred or was occuring, an officer may then legally stop and question the driver of an autombile within the context of a vehicular detention.
Furthermore, during the course of a traffic stop law enforcement safety has been determined to be a foremost principal by which to justify resulting police conduct. As such, if an officer can credibly articulate reasonable suspicion that the target of arrest is armed and/or an imminent threat to the officer’s safety, such an officer may permissibly frisk the individual for weapons with few impediments or time restraints.
Probable cause in this or any other circumstance will therefore be legally determined when credible facts can be put forward within a court of law such that a reasonable person would be able to believe that a given individual has committed or is in the course of commission of a criminal offense. For law enforcement officers to perpetrate an arrest after a vehicular stop, an officer must have probable cause. A subsequent “arrest” takes place therafter when a police official puts an individual in “custody” against their will for purposes of criminal questioning.
Custody is an important concept within the field of criminal law. This is so due to the important fact that self incrimination rights attach to the point in time when one is considered in custody. Courts nationwide have fought on an ongoing basis as to what it means to the reasobable person to be in custody so as to determine whether a statement given to police officials can be excluded.
If subjectively based upon the given circumstances of a case a reasonable person could feel free to leave police questioning at any time, statements given to police officials will not be subject to exclusion. In the real world however, police have routinely manipulated such a standard of exclusion by claiming that at no time was a target of an investigation told that they were not at liberty to cease police interrogation.
Clearly in such circumstances subtle intimidation absent specific utterances by police have routinely given police a stamp of approval to bypass exclusionary rule concerns in circumstances where evidence could not be legally obtained otherwise.
Further carved out exceptions have limited the effectiveness of exclusionary rule challenges in regard to traffic stops. Roadblocks and inventory searches (searches where evidence within accessible compartments of a vehicle is seized an inventoried following an arrest for the purpose of “safekeeping” the evidence obtained) are some of the most egregious sources of concern for lawyers seeing to preserve individual liberties.
Thus, although a vehicular stop needs to have a modicum of reasonable suspicion to be considered legal, the exclusionary rule in practice both within Indiana and across the nation has too often be watered down in favor of affirming police misconduct. This constant and ongoing legal battle between affirming convictions and preserving civil liberties is one of the primary battlegrounds confronting the american criminal justice system.
In Indiana, my experience with the exclusionary rule has unfortunately not always been favorable to those seeking to challenge the validity of a traffic stop within the context of a drunk driving investigation. Because the threshold standard by which to affirm a finding of probable cause has become so low and watered down, resulting field sobriety determinations and corresponding breath test results have rarely been subject to exclusion.
Unlike other forms of criminal investigation where the search itself is the impetus to determine illegal conduct (acquisition of drugs, guns, other forms of contraband), drunk driving determinations are not customarily predicated on the seizure of specific forms of evidence. Rather, police stops and eventual prosecution rest squarely upon the officer’s visual observation of a violation of traffic safety rules and a resulting investigation as to a finding of potential driving impairment on the part of the targeted subject of investigation.