Legal Concepts: Exclusionary Rule, Right to Counsel and the Miranda Doctrine

Published 04 Aug 2016

The Exclusionary Rule is a rule of evidence which prohibits the admission in court of any evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. It serves to give flesh and blood to the Fourth Amendment by giving the courts the authority to render inadmissible any evidence obtained illegally by the police officers. It is considered as the only practical means of enforcing the constitutional injunction against unreasonable searches and seizures. Thus, when police officers obtained evidence against the accused without search or arrest warrant, the courts can order that the evidence is excluded. One of the reasons for this is to discourage the police officers from resorting to unconstitutional means to be able to obtain evidence against a suspect. It also seeks to encourage police officers to ensure compliance with the requirement of the Fourth Amendment before they make any arrest or seizure.

A pretext stop is committed when police officers cause an individual who is driving a motor vehicle to stop because of the latter’s commission of a minor crime such as a minor traffic violation. Pretext stops almost always lead to the police officers’ discovery that the individual who violated a minor crime is actually involved in a more serious crime such as drug possession. While this has become a common practice among police officers, its constitutionality has always been questioned. The Supreme Court, however, has ruled that it does not. Based on the ruling in the case of Whren v. the US, the Supreme Court has declared that the temporary detention of a motorist based on probable cause to believe that he has violated traffic laws does not violate the Fourth Amendment. One of the more recognized exceptions to the Fourth Amendment is the presence of probable cause. If the police officer has reason to believe based on the facts and circumstances of the case that the suspect has committed the crime or that a criminal activity is about to happen, a police officer has the discretion to stop the motorist and conduct a search.

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In the 1963 case of Gideon v. Wainwright (372 US 335), the Supreme Court declared that the right to counsel extends to felony cases. In this case, defendant was charged in a Florida State Court with a non-capital felony. Defendant appeared without funds and without counsel and asked the court to appoint a counsel for him. The court denied his request on the ground that the right is available only in capital offenses. Consequently, defendant conducted his own defense but was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment. The Supreme Court declared that it is immaterial whether the accused is being charged with a capital offense or a noncapital offense. The right of an indigent in a criminal trial to have the effective assistance of a counsel is a fundamental right that is essential to a fair trial. Since the defendant was denied the presentation of a counsel, the defendant’s Fourteenth Amendment right was violated. Thus, his conviction was reversed.

Strickland v. Washington, 466 US 668 (1984) is the landmark case which declared that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel can be violated if the counsel appointed by the court to represent an indigent client is incompetent or failed to render an effective assistance to his client. The standard to determine is whether the lawyer was ineffective in the defense of the accused is the presence of fair trial. To be able to show that the counsel was incompetent the accused must be able to show that the counsel’s performance was deficient and that the deficient performance prejudiced his defense. Should the defendant be successful in proving that the counsel was ineffective then the court has complete authority to reverse his conviction?

The lawyers who authorized the use of extreme interrogation techniques in order to extract confessions willfully and knowingly violated the existing law and their oath as lawyers. As officers of the court, it is their solemn duty to obey the law and the constitution. It is also their duty not to commit any injustice against any person. Thus, they should not only be disbarred from the practice of their profession they should also be punished criminally and civilly for their actions.

Obedience to an order of a superior officer does not justify the use of torture against innocent individuals. It must be stressed that no one person is above the law. No one person can claim that acts against existing laws or the constitution are valid when ordered by a superior officer. All laws must be obeyed even the highest ranking official of the United States. The officers herein knowing that the said order was unlawful should have desisted from complying with the orders of his superior officer.

Miranda v. Arizona, 384 US 436 (1966), is the landmark case that declared that the right against self-incrimination extends to the custodial investigation. All police officers who place a person under custodial investigation are required to ensure that at the time of the arrest the suspect has been informed of his rights. They must inform the accused that he has the right to be informed of his right to remain silent; that anything he says can and will be used against him in court; that he has the right to an attorney and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be provided free of charge by the state. This was subsequently called the Miranda warning.

There are three main branches of government: the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judiciary. The primary function of the executive branch is to execute laws. The primary function of the legislative branch is to enact, amend, and repeal laws. The primary function of the judiciary is to interpret the law.

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