Like other criminal justice systems, the U.S. system must balance, on the one hand, enforcing the criminal law and, on the other, protecting individual rights in the process. Reliable fact-finding is a prerequisite to the effective enforcement of criminal law and to just outcomes. Protection of individual rights often promotes reliable fact-finding, as when a ban on involuntary confessions prevents the introduction of unreliable testimony at trial. On occasion, however, the commitment to accurate fact-finding may conflict with individual rights in a particular case. One of the clearest examples of such a conflict occurs when a court must decide whether to admit reliable and probative evidence obtained in violation of constitutional rights.
In the United States, rights that are expressly protected by the Constitution—such as the right to remain silent, the right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure, and the right to counsel—are given more weight in the balance than the state’s need to explore fully the facts in a criminal case. The values of fairness, dignity, privacy, and liberty embodied in these rights frequently outweigh the concern for reliable factfinding. But in deciding how to enforce these constitutional rights, U.S. courts have recognized the relevance of competing interests in the criminal justice system, such as the interest in truthseeking. In deciding whether to exclude evidence, for example, courts have considered whether exclusion is expressly required by the Constitution and whether the benefits of exclusion, such as deterring police misconduct, outweigh its costs to truthseeking.
This report, written for an international research project comparing exclusionary rules for confessions in several countries, examines U.S. constitutional law on admissibility of confessions and discusses the contexts in which the law demands exclusion and contexts in which a cost-benefit analysis has led courts to reject exclusion. The report further explains the justifications and practical effects of exclusionary rules and the public debates surrounding their use.
Do Exclusionary Rules Ensure a Fair Trial? A Comparative Perspective on Evidentiary Rules
Jenia I. Turner, Regulating Interrogations and Excluding Confessions in the United States: Balancing Individual Rights and the Search for Truth, in Do Exclusionary Rules Ensure a Fair Trial? A Comparative Perspective on Evidentiary Rules (Sabine Gless and Thomas Richter, eds., 2019)