People Don't Heal the Exclusionary Rule Essay

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¶ … People Don't Heal

The Exclusionary Rule and Thomas McInnis's book, the Christian Burial Case

What constitutes an ethical interrogation technique? It seems every day the media bombards the American public with this question. Scandals about the techniques used against suspected terrorists by the government blare across the headlines of every major newspaper and fill the airwaves. The question of when and how to use certain interrogation techniques, as well as the legality of certain techniques, is something all future FBI agents will have to grapple with on a daily basis. This is why it is so important that agents know how to legally and ethically gather evidence. They must have a clear understanding of the exceptions to the rules that govern the recovery of evidence. It is particularly important to understand the different exceptions to the exclusionary rule to ensure that all incriminating evidence can be used against a guilty defendant in a court of law.

The exclusionary rule prevents evidence that is obtained illegally to be used in a case against a defendant in a court of law. There are several major exemptions to this rule, one of which has come to be known as the "Inevitable Discovery Doctrine," which states that evidence can used, even if it was obtained in violation of the suspect's constitutional rights, if "the prosecution can show that the evidence would have been discovered from a hypothetical, independent source" in an inevitable fashion, given the progress of the investigation (Cooke, 2002).Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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This doctrine was established as a result of a particularly horrific case, as discussed in Thomas McInnis' 2000 book, the Christian Burial Case. The Supreme Court created this doctrine when they ruled on the case of Nix v. Williams, in clarification of its earlier ruling in Brewer v. Williams. The story of the Williams case began with the disappearance of a ten-year-old girl. The police immediately suspected Robert Williams, a recently released mental patient residing at the YMCA where the girl was last seen. Eye witness testimony of a young boy who had seen him carrying what looked like a body in a blanket and helped Williams open up his car alerted the police to the connection between Williams and the girl. Then, items connected to the girl were found in William's car near the YMCA. The Iowa police issued a warrant for the suspect's arrest and began searching the area for the body. Williams gave himself up to the local authorities to the county where he had fled. He contacted his attorney, "who was promised by police that Williams would not be questioned during transit back to Des Moines" (Cooke, 2002).

The title of McInnis' book comes from the unusual method of pressuring the defendant used by the police taking the suspect back to Des Moines, Officer Leaming commented about how the girl deserved a Christian burial. Williams, apparently feeling guilty, told the police where to look for the body. "At that time, the search party was only 2 miles from the body, and would have eventually been covered by the search team," (Cooke, 2002). Williams' lawyer wanted to have his confession suppressed. Originally, the trial judge declared all evidence obtained during and after the car ride admissible, which resulted in Williams' conviction on first degree murder. Then, in Brewer v. Williams, the Warren Court decided that the Iowa police had violated the defendant's 6th Amendment right to counsel. The court found that although the self-incriminating statements were inadmissible, the body might admissible since it would have been found by the search party, in the same condition ("Nix v. Williams," 1984, Great American Court Cases).

In a nation with a more cohesive national system of laws, of course, like France or England, the lag time or change of custody for the suspect when Williams changed hands from one police office to another would have resulted in more uniform interrogation techniques. Williams would have clearly have been in the custody of the law, not in legal limbo, as jurisdiction would not have been an issue. Also, the extensive history of the case would have been shorter, as Europe and England lacks America's extensive bureaucracy of state courts, state appellate courts, as well as the federal and Supreme Court of the land. The Supreme Court noted that a defendant 'becomes' a defendant "at the inception of adversarial judicial proceedings against a defendant," even if his custody was being transferred, and "after attachment of the right, a suspect may not be interrogated without a valid waiver or the presence of counsel. The Supreme Court ruled that the Christian burial speech was designed to elicit an incriminating response from Williams, therefore, it constituted interrogation" (Hendrie 1997:1).

Roger Williams did benefit from the Warren Court's legacy in the field of criminal procedure, most notably the legacy of Gideon v. Wainwright, which extended the right to counsel to all individuals, regardless of their ability to pay, and Miranda v. Arizona, which mandated that a suspect be clearly informed of all of his constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to counsel. The fact that Williams' attorney was not present during the car ride, after he was in police custody, was a critical factor in gaining him a second trial. According to the court, there was no question that the interrogation Williams was subjected to was illegal in the police car back to Des Moines. "In addition, even though Williams had been warned no fewer than five times of both his right to remain silent and his right to counsel, the Court held that a valid waiver of counsel requires that the state prove not merely that the defendant comprehended that right but also that he intended to relinquish it," clarifying its ruling in Miranda v. Arizona (Hendrie 1997:2).

In the second trial involving the Williams case, the police obtained more power to use recovered evidence obtained illegally. One of the legal problems of the case that proved so difficult for the Supreme Court to unravel was the nature of the interrogation of Detective Leaming. Leaming was not questioning Williams. He was merely 'musing' aloud about how awful it would be if the body was not found, and the girl could not be given a Christian burial before Christmas. He did this to make Williams feel guilty, obviously, and to psychologically play upon Williams' feelings. If Leaming had asked Williams outright, "can you tell us where the body is," his actions would have been clearly illegal and in violation of the constitution. Instead, the officer said: "They are predicting several inches of snow for tonight, and I feel that you yourself are the only person that knows where this little girl's body is. That you yourself have only been there once and if you get a snow on top of it you yourself may be unable to find it" (Hendrie 1997: 2). If Leaming had said nothing to the defendant, and instead only spoke aloud with his fellow officers about how bad he felt that they would not be able to find the body because snow was falling, and the child would have no Christian burial, there is no way that his words could have been interpreted as an interrogation, given that they were merely overheard by the defendant.

Clearly the Leaming interrogation is open to interpretation. When the Burger Court heard Williams' second appeal, the Burger Court's articulated philosophy was different than that of the Warren Court's. Warren Court's philosophy of the exclusionary rule stressed the need to protect defendants from prosecutorial bad faith and overly zealous police officers. If suspect's rights were not protected, there would be an inevitable incentive for representatives of the law to violate those rights. However, the Burger Court in Nix. V. Williams, found that "the Court… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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People Don't Heal the Exclusionary Rule.  (2008, January 28).  Retrieved April 1, 2020, from

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"People Don't Heal the Exclusionary Rule."  January 28, 2008.  Accessed April 1, 2020.