The Foundations of the Exclusionary Rule

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.


The Foundations of the Exclusionary Rule.—Important to determination of such questions as the application of the exclusionary rule to the states and the ability of Congress to abolish or to limit it is the fixing of the constitutional source and the basis of the rule. For some time, it was not clear whether the exclusionary rule was derived from the Fourth Amendment, from some union of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, or from the Court’s supervisory power over the lower federal courts. It will be recalled that in Boyd461 the Court fused the search and seizure clause with the provision of the Fifth Amendment protecting against compelled self-incrimination. In Weeks v. United States,462 though the Fifth Amendment was mentioned, the holding seemed clearly to be based on the Fourth Amendment. Nevertheless, in opinions following Weeks the Court clearly identified the basis for the exclusionary rule as the Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment.463 Then, in Mapp v. Ohio,464 the Court tied the rule strictly to the Fourth Amendment, finding exclusion of evidence seized in violation of the Amendment to be the “most important constitutional privilege” of the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, finding that the rule was “an essential part of the right of privacy” protected by the Amendment.

“This Court has ever since [Weeks was decided in 1914] required of federal law officers a strict adherence to that command which this Court has held to be a clear, specific, and constitutionally required—even if judicially implied—deterrent safeguard without insistence upon which the Fourth Amendment would have been reduced to a ‘form of words.’”465 It was a necessary step in the application of the rule to the states to find that the rule was of constitutional origin rather than a result of an exercise of the Court’s supervisory power over the lower federal courts, because the latter could not constitutionally be extended to the state courts.466 In fact, in Wolf v. Colorado,467 in declining to extend the exclusionary rule to the states, Justice Frankfurter seemed to find the rule to be based on the Court’s supervisory powers. Mapp establishes that the rule is of constitutional origin, but this does not necessarily establish that it is immune to statutory revision.

Suggestions appear in a number of cases, including Weeks, to the effect that admission of illegally seized evidence is itself unconstitutional.468 These suggestions were often combined with a rationale emphasizing “judicial integrity” as a reason to reject the proffer of such evidence.469 Yet the Court permitted such evidence to be introduced into trial courts when the defendant lacked “standing” to object to the search and seizure that produced the evidence470 or when the search took place before the announcement of the decision extending the exclusionary rule to the states.471 At these times, the Court turned to the “basic postulate of the exclusionary rule itself. The rule is calculated to prevent, not to repair. Its purpose is to deter—to compel respect for the constitutional guaranty in the only effectively available way—by removing the incentive to disregard it.”472Mapp had as its prime purpose the enforcement of the Fourth Amendment through the inclusion of the exclusionary rule within its rights. This, it was found, was the only effective deterrent to lawless police action. Indeed, all of the cases since Wolf requiring the exclusion of illegal evidence have been based on the necessity for an effective deterrent to illegal police action.”473

461 Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886).

462 232 U.S. 383 (1914). Defendant’s room had been searched and papers seized by officers acting without a warrant. “If letters and private documents can thus be seized and held and used in evidence against a citizen accused of an offense, the protection of the Fourth Amendment declaring his right to be secure against such searches and seizures is of no value, and, so far as those thus placed are concerned, might as well be stricken from the Constitution.” Id. at 393.

463 E.g., Gouled v. United States, 255 U.S. 298, 306, 307 (1921); Amos v. United States, 255 U.S. 313, 316 (1921); Agnello v. United States, 269 U.S. 20, 33–34 (1925); McGuire v. United States, 273 U.S. 95, 99 (1927). In Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 462 (1928), Chief Justice Taft ascribed the rule both to the Fourth and the Fifth Amendments, while in dissent Justices Holmes and Brandeis took the view that the Fifth Amendment was violated by the admission of evidence seized in violation of the Fourth. Id. at 469, 478–79. Justice Black was the only modern proponent of this view. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 661 (1961) (concurring opinion); Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 493, 496–500 (1971) (dissenting opinion). See, however, Justice Clark’s plurality opinion in Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23, 30 (1963), in which he brought up the self-incrimination clause as a supplementary source of the rule, a position which he had discarded in Mapp.

464 367 U.S. 643, 656 (1961). Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25, 28 (1949), also ascribed the rule to the Fourth Amendment exclusively.

465 Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 648 (1961) (emphasis added).

466 An example of an exclusionary rule not based on constitutional grounds may be found in McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332 (1943), and Mallory v. United States, 354 U.S. 449 (1957), in which the Court enforced a requirement that arrestees be promptly presented to a magistrate by holding that incriminating admissions obtained during the period beyond a reasonable time for presentation would be inadmissible. The rule was not extended to the States, cf. Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 598–602 (1961), but the Court’s resort to the self-incrimination clause in reviewing confessions made such application irrelevant in most cases in any event. For an example of a transmutation of a supervisory rule into a constitutional rule, see McCarthy v. United States, 394 U.S. 459 (1969), and Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238 (1969).

467 Weeks “was not derived from the explicit requirements of the Fourth Amendment . . . . The decision was a matter of judicial implication.” 338 U.S. 25, 28 (1949). Justice Black was more explicit. “I agree with what appears to be a plain implication of the Court’s opinion that the federal exclusionary rule is not a command of the Fourth Amendment but is a judicially created rule of evidence which Congress might negate.” Id. at 39–40. He continued to adhere to the supervisory power basis in strictly search-and-seizure cases, Berger v. New York, 388 U.S. 41, 76 (1967) (dissenting), except where self-incrimination values were present. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 661 (1961) (concurring). See also id. at 678 (Justice Harlan dissenting); Elkins v. United States, 364 U.S. 206, 216 (1960) (Justice Stewart for the Court).

468 “The tendency of those who execute the criminal laws of the country to obtain convictions by means of unlawful searches and enforced confessions . . . should find no sanction in the judgment of the courts which are charged at all times with the support of the Constitution . . . .” Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 392 (1914). In Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 655, 657 (1961), Justice Clark maintained that “the Fourth Amendment include[s] the exclusion of the evidence seized in violation of its provisions” and that it, and the Fifth Amendment with regard to confessions “assures . . . that no man is to be convicted on unconstitutional evidence.” In Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 12, 13 (1968), Chief Justice Warren wrote: “Courts which sit under our Constitution cannot and will not be made party to lawless invasions of the constitutional rights of citizens by permitting unhindered governmental use of the fruits of such invasions. . . . A ruling admitting evidence in a criminal trial . . . has the necessary effect of legitimizing the conduct which produced the evidence.”

469 Elkins v. United States, 364 U.S. 206, 222–23 (1960); Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 660 (1961). See McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332, 339–40 (1943).

470 See “Operation of the Rule: Standing,” infra.

471 Linkletter v. Walker, 381 U.S. 618 (1965).

472 Elkins v. United States, 364 U.S. 206, 217 (1960).

473 Linkletter v. Walker, 381 U.S. 618, 636–37 (1965). The Court advanced other reasons for its decision as well. Id. at 636–40.