Search and Seizure: Exclusionary Rule


The remedy for a violation of an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights is called the exclusionary rule. Also known as the fruit of the poisonous tree, this rule prohibits the introduction of evidence that was unlawfully obtained. It is meant as a deterrence against violations of the Fourth Amendment.[1]

However, there are several exceptions to this rule. The first is the “good faith exception.” This means that the officers acted with an objectively reasonable good faith belief that there acts were lawful. [2] The second is the inevitable discovery exception. This exception requires that the state prove that the evidence would have ultimately been discovered by lawful means.[3] The final is the independent source exception which allows in evidence that was initially obtained unlawfully if it was subsequently obtained through independent and lawful means.[4]

Case Law

U.S. Supreme Court

*Independent Source*

“The independent source doctrine does not rest upon such metaphysical analysis, but upon the policy that, while the government should not profit from its illegal activity, neither should it be placed in a worse position than it would otherwise have occupied. So long as a later, lawful seizure is genuinely independent of an earlier, tainted one (which may well be difficult to establish where the seized goods are kept in the police's possession) there is no reason why the independent source doctrine should not apply.” Murray v. United States, 487 U.S. 533, 542 (1988).

S.C. Supreme Court

“The Fourth Amendment itself provides no remedy for a violation of the warrant requirement. Davis v. United States, –––U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 2419, 180 L.Ed.2d 285 (2011). However, the United States Supreme Court has fashioned a judicially-created remedy, the exclusionary rule, which is a deterrent sanction by which the prosecution is barred from introducing evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Id. at 2423. ‘Exclusion is not a personal constitutional right, nor is it designed to redress the injury occasioned by an unconstitutional search.’ Id. at 2426 (citations omitted). ‘The rule's sole purpose, [the Supreme Court] has repeatedly held, is to deter future Fourth Amendment violations.’ Id. Because ‘[e]xclusion exacts a heavy toll on both the judicial system and society at large,’ the Court has stated ‘the deterrence benefits of suppression must outweigh its heavy costs’ for the exclusion to be deemed appropriate. Id. at 2427. In addition, judicially-created exceptions have been established to ameliorate the harsh effects of the judicially-created exclusionary rule. Id.State v. Brown, 401 S.C. 82, 88–89 (2012) (quotations omitted).


*Good Faith*

The exclusionary rule is a “judicially created remedy” for a Fourth Amendment violation. Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229, 238, 131 S. Ct. 2419, 2427, 180 L.Ed. 2d 285, 294 (2011). “[T]he sole purpose of the exclusionary rule is to deter misconduct by law enforcement.” 564 U.S. at 246, 131 S. Ct. at 2432, 180 L.Ed. 2d at 300. The rule does not apply “when the police act with an objectively ‘reasonable good-faith belief’ that their conduct is lawful.” 564 U.S. at 238, 131 S. Ct. at 2427, 180 L.Ed. 2d at 295. “Where there is no misconduct, and thus no deterrent purpose to be served, suppression of the evidence is an unduly harsh sanction.” Hamrick v. State, 426 S.C. 638, 654, 828 S.E.2d 596, 604 (2019), reh'g denied (July 1, 2019)


“In Davis v. United States, the United States Supreme Court stated that the exclusionary rule does not apply in cases where ‘the police act with an objectively reasonable good-faith belief that their conduct is lawful.’ ––– U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 2419, 2427, 180 L.Ed.2d 285 (2011) (quoting United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 909, 104 S.Ct. 3405, 82 L.Ed.2d 677 (1984)). The Davis court explained, ‘[r]esponsible law-enforcement officers will take care to learn what is required of them under Fourth Amendment precedent and will conform their conduct to these rules.’” State v. Adams, 409 S.C. 641, 650 (2014) (quotations omitted).


*Inevitable Discovery*

“The inevitable discovery doctrine, one exception to the exclusionary rule, states that if the prosecution can establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the information ultimately or inevitably would have been discovered by lawful means, the information is admissible despite the fact it was illegally obtained. Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431, 444, 104 S.Ct. 2501, 81 L.Ed.2d 377 (1984). As explained by the Nix Court, ‘if the government can prove that the evidence would have been obtained inevitably and, therefore, would have been admitted regardless of any overreaching by the police, there is no rational basis to keep that evidence from the jury in order to ensure the fairness of the trial proceedings.’” State v. Spears, 393 S.C. 466, 482 (Ct. App. 2011).

[1] State v. Brown, 401 S.C. 82 (2012). [2] State v. Adams, 409 S.C. 641 (2014). [3] State v. Spears, 393 S.C. 466, 482 (Ct. App. 2011). [4] Murray v. United States, 487 U.S. 533 (1988).