What is the ‘Exclusionary Rule’ and How Can It Help Me Keep Harmful Evidence out of a Criminal Case in Florida?

Many people may be familiar with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and its protection against illegal searches and seizures. Fewer people may be familiar with is the “exclusionary rule.’ This rule is something that may help you to get harmful evidence thrown out in your case if the police obtained that evidence through an illegal arrest. To get the proof suppressed, though, you still have to know what the correct legal rules are and the correct way to go about seeking suppression. In other words, you need to be sure that you have a knowledgeable Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney on your side working to protect your rights.

J.R.D.’s case was one that involved this rule and was an important victory for anyone illegally arrested due to mistakes made by the police. The case arose from a police stop of J.R.D. and his identical twin brother. The officer did a computer check and the sheriff’s department’s computerized warrant system said that both brothers had outstanding warrants. The officer called dispatch to confirm that the computer information was correct. The dispatcher told the officer that J.R.D. had an outstanding warrant, but his brother did not.

The officer arrested J.R.D. and, after searching him, found illegal drugs. On the way to the jail, the officer discovered that both the computer and the dispatcher were wrong – J.R.D. did not have any outstanding warrants. (It turns out that his brother did and he did not.) Despite this revelation, the officer took J.R.D. to jail and the state charged him for possession of controlled substance.

As you may recognize, there was a significant problem with the state’s case. The law allows the police to make brief stops of people in certain circumstances to check for warrants, but the stop must be only as long as it takes to make the warrants check and, if the stopped individual has no outstanding warrants, then he should be free to go. J.R.D. had no warrants yet he was not set free, but was instead into custody and searched, which was when the officer found the drugs.

This meant that J.R.D.’s was an illegal arrest. The main question, then, became whether the illegal arrest entitled J.R.D. to a court order suppressing the evidence of drugs.

Not all defendants who are arrested in illegal arrests are entitled to suppression of evidence found pursuant to searches done during that arrest. To be entitled to suppression, you have to demonstrate to the court that your case entitles you to application of a legal concept called the “exclusionary rule.” The exclusionary rule exists as a safeguard against law enforcement’s trampling on citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights by saying that, when certain illegal arrests occur, evidence obtained in that arrest should be thrown out as a deterrent against police over-stepping.

‘Good faith exception does not apply to mistakes’ caused by police

The law does recognize what’s called a “good faith” exception to this rule, but the court in J.R.D.’s case explained that it only applies in a narrow set of circumstances. The exception only exists if the police officer acted in good faith and the mistake that led to the illegal arrest was made by someone outside the law enforcement agency. The court directly stated that “if the error causing the arrest is attributable to law enforcement personnel, then the seized evidence must be suppressed under the exclusionary rule.” No exceptions.

In J.R.D.’s case, there were two mistakes, and each was an error “attributable to law enforcement personnel.” First, there was the computer error. The computer system was the sheriff’s department’s system, so the sheriff’s office was responsible for it, its data and any errors in that information. Second, the dispatcher mistakenly confused J.R.D. and his brother. Again, this was a mistake “attributable to law enforcement personnel.”

This case is a reminder that the police cannot use bogus or erroneous information to arrest you illegally and then hide behind those mistakes in order to admit evidence seized in that illegal arrest.

Mistakes happen, including good-faith ones. However, if you are searched or arrested illegally due to an error by police, then you may be entitled to get any evidence seized in that search/arrest excluded from trial, whether the mistake was good-faith or not. Getting that evidence suppressed means giving the court the right information and the right arguments at the right time. To make sure your rights are protected when you have been charged with a drug crime or another offense, retain the skilled attorneys at Blake & Dorsten, P.A. Our attorneys have been helping clients for many years throughout the pre-trial and trial processes. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation.

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