Should evidence proving guilt of a defendant be thrown out if such evidence was obtained illegally (such as police invading privacy to obtain said evidence)? Would such an act by a court be equivalent to ignoring facts? Or is the right to privacy equally as inalienable as man's right to his own life?
I ask this question in light of the recent Supreme Court decision which ruled that law enforcement cannot use a GPS device to track a suspect without a warrant.
asked Jan 24 '12 at 20:40
JK Gregg ♦
The sole purpose of a legitimate government is to protect individual rights. A government that violates your rights -- such as by obtaining evidence illegally -- cannot also protect them.
In normal situations, the person who obtained the evidence would be required to testify in court. If the evidence was obtained illegally, it introduces significant issues with regard to the reliability and honesty of the person who obtained it. It could also introduce doubts with the regard to the motives and intentions of a prosecution team that would attempt to present such evidence.
So yes, evidence obtained illegally should be thrown out. In addition, whoever committed the illegal act involved with obtaining the evidence should be prosecuted.
The issue of whether the evidence "proves" guilt is secondary. Evidence alone proves nothing in court unless the defense has a proper opportunity to cross-examine, explain, etc., and the jury has an opportunity to evaluate related testimony. For example, what about manufactured evidence? Or misinterpreted evidence?
answered Jan 25 '12 at 04:52
I think it is important to point out that there is not an Objectivist position on this question, and that reasonable people can disagree about the answer. Rick rightly points out that the proper purpose of government is to protect rights, and that the government cannot be allowed to violate rights while obtaining evidence---that much Objectivism can tell us.
However, the question then becomes what is the best way to keep the government from violating rights when obtaining evidence? This is where reasonable people could disagree.
The theory supporting the exclusionary rule is that government officials will not be motivated to obtain evidence through rights violations if they know that such evidence will not be admissible in court. By undercutting one of the official's major motivations for violating rights (i.e., obtaining convictions), we diminish the frequency of such rights violations.
However, critics of the exclusionary rule point out that there are real costs associated with the rule---chief among them that some very bad criminals go free (remember, it is not bad evidence, i.e., false/misleading/irrelevant, that is being excluded here; it is relevant, reliable, powerful evidence that is often excluded). Of course, protecting rights is of paramount importance, but what if there is another way to protect rights that does not have the same negative side effects? For example, making it possible (or easier in the handful of jurisdictions where it already is possible) to sue government officials who obtain evidence through rights violations. Or instituting rigid and actually meaningful disciplinary regimes enforceable by law to punish officials who violate rights (for example, they lose their job and are fined $X).
Furthermore, these alternative measures would have the additional benefit of deterring rights violating behavior of government officials that is not motivated by the desire to obtain evidence for conviction---sometimes the official is not interested in convicting you, he just wants to harass/intimidate/extort you. In such a case the "threat" of excluding illegally obtained evidence does not deter the official, but the threat of a law suit or loss of a job or severe fine might just have the needed deterrent effect.
My point is not to say that supporters of the exclusionary rule must be wrong--they have rationally supportable positions, and could probably point out some difficulties with the alternative measures. My point is simply that Objectivism does not tell us how rights should be protected, only that they must be protected somehow.
answered Jan 26 '12 at 10:33