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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%20Gregg's gravatar image

JK Gregg ♦

Is privacy a right?

(Jan 24 '12 at 21:05) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Can the legal system survive if the enforcers of law may operate outside the law?

(Jan 25 '12 at 03:02) garret seinen garret%20seinen's gravatar image

Of course privacy is a right. It is a derivative of property rights.

(Jan 25 '12 at 07:55) anthony anthony's gravatar image

More important, @garret seinen, can freedom survive if enforcers may operate outside the law? The answer is an unqualified NO.

(Jan 25 '12 at 09:49) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image

@anthony: Question on privacy as a right asked here

(Jan 27 '12 at 05:11) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image
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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

Rick's gravatar image

Rick ♦

Our government sometimes does violate our rights, and sometimes does protect them.

(Jan 25 '12 at 08:01) anthony anthony's gravatar image

A murderer doesn't kill everyone they meet. A rights violator doesn't violate every right all the time -- but if rights are violated, then they are violated, and not protected.

(Jan 25 '12 at 22:10) Rick ♦ Rick's gravatar image

Rick, would you agree that a right must be universally protected and at all times, in order to qualify as a right? I'd say that arbitrary enforcement is form of anarchy, that life then can not be ensured. An action sometimes allowed and sometimes restricted means we have arbitrary rule, but no rights.

(Jan 26 '12 at 02:37) garret seinen garret%20seinen's gravatar image

If a right is protected or violated or not has no affect on whether it "qualifies" as a true right. Their origin is the nature of man; they aren't granted by governments, and therefore can't be revoked by them. Government (or others) can protect or violate your rights, but they can't hand them out or take them away.

(Jan 26 '12 at 03:47) Rick ♦ Rick's gravatar image

A murderer is a person. A government is not a person.

I understand the personification in saying "the government violates a right", but the analogy between a government and a person only goes so far. In the instant case we're not even talking about the same branches of government.

(Jan 26 '12 at 10:49) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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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

ericmaughan43's gravatar image

ericmaughan43 ♦

If protecting rights is paramount, how does this bear on the question of the government roughly torturing people it suspects have knowledge it needs for national security ? Is torture deemed a non-violation of rights (seems bizarre)? It seems to me that many Objectivist types were strongly supportive of muscular measures used in Gitmo. I assume that is because that was "war" but then isn't the "war on drugs" also a "war" ?

(Jan 26 '12 at 11:28) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

Torture is a difficult issue---obviously torturing an innocent is a violation of rights, but what about torture of a person who has initiated the use of physical force against another, when the torture is necessary to prevent further harm? The question becomes much more nuanced at that point. However, Tetracide's question was not about torture. If you are interested in Objectivist positions on it (rather than mere suppositions about what "Objectivst types" would say), then I encourage you to ask a separate question about it.

(Jan 26 '12 at 12:08) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

I did look up the precise question here http://objectivistanswers.com/questions/851/when-is-the-use-of-torture-proper but I am afraid that the answers seemed to be, like the Ground Zero Mosque, so nuanced as to make them hard to comprehend. IF someone can hurt you AND you know they will AND it's war THEN torture is OK? It just seems that the US certainly tortured at least a few people who were not only innocent but become avowed enemies with hatred for the USA (logical) once they were released.

(Jan 26 '12 at 12:26) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

I am not sure that any Objectivsts say that everything that the U.S. has done vis-a-vis Guantanamo Bay is appropriate. As you note, the issue is nuanced. The U.S. did somethings right, others wrong. However, the possibility of making error is not an argument against doing something--it is merely a reason why one should be extra careful in doing it. Torture is serious business, and there is a good argument that it is so dangerous it should not be used, even if it is morally allowable. But reasonable people could disagree.

(Jan 26 '12 at 12:43) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

I think additionally to questions of how practically to get government to protect rights while not violating them itself, is there in your opinion a legitimate concern about the objectivity of law here? Let me explain: if the law allows the lawful process it outlines to be subverted, and still arrive at a conviction, is that still objective law? It seems like this is allowing government to operate outside its own laws.

(Jan 26 '12 at 17:09) FCH FCH's gravatar image
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Asked: Jan 24 '12 at 20:40

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Last updated: Jan 27 '12 at 05:11