What does it mean to get evidence 'thrown out?'

February 3, 2018

 

A judge can rule evidence excluded because of constitutional and statutory law violations by police officers. The judge can also exclude evidence that derives or “flows” from tainted evidence.

 

Evidence collected by a judge-signed warrant is presumptively legal. Evidence collected by police officers without a warrant is per se unreasonable and, thus, inadmissible unless the State can prove to a judge that a warrantless search that yielded the evidence falls within a handful of exceptions.

 

 Judges follow this “exclusionary rule” to a point. There has been a debate going on for decades on whether it is appropriate to throw out probative, or, on-point and reliable, evidence that directly ties a suspect to a crime “just because” the police violated the law—in some cases the highest law in the land, our Constitution— to obtain the evidence. There is a discussion among jurists and legal scholars as to whether there are other ways to “deter” or prevent officers from violating the law other than allowing criminal defendants to profit from police misconduct.

 

Thus, it’s no surprise that law enforcement officers and prosecutors call those errors that result in exclusion of evidence “technicalities” and defense lawyers characterize them as “constitutional law violations.”

 

In high profile cases, when a judge “throws out” evidence, e.g., excludes it from the jury’s view if it comes to a jury trial, media fueled by extrajudicial speech from police and prosecutors announce that the prosecution was foiled by a technicality and not police misconduct.

 

But the exclusionary rule sometimes applies and sometimes it doesn’t. It becomes more difficult to discern whether a constitutional law violation led to later discoveries. Police sometimes say they would have found the evidence anyway—citing to inevitable discovery. Even when prosecutors and police must admit that they have violated the constitution, they argue that later discovery evidence wasn’t based on the violation and was “attenuated” from it.

 

Even if a Judge agrees with a Defendant that police violated the constitution in the collection of evidence, the remedy is not typically dismissal; it’s exclusion of the tainted evidence. Sometimes, in rare cases, when the main or only evidence against a Defendant is the excluded evidence, it can be fatal to a prosecution, but not always and it doesn’t mean a case is automatically dismissed.

 

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a crime in Iowa, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC at 319-389-1889 or https://www.daclawfirm.com for a free initial consultation. However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and that sending unsolicited information to an attorney over the Internet does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

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