The Good-Faith Exception to the Fourth Amendment Exclusionary Rule

The good-faith exception is a legal principle in the American Constitutional law that gives exemptions to the exclusionary rule that is found in under the Fourth Amendment. The exclusionary rule itself is a legal doctrine that holds that evidence that is gotten from unwarranted searches and in violation of the privacy of the accused is inadmissible in the court of law.

Therefore, the good-faith exemption holds that criminal evidences that are collected and introduced in trial in violation to privacy rights should be admissible if it can be established that the legal officer is ignorant of the illegality of the warrant and as such is acting in good faith. Thus, the exemption can be said to be an appeal to the ignorance of the police officer as to whether the warrant as invalid. The good-faith exception was introduced to the United State Constitutional law as a result of the decision that was reached in two separate cases in 1984 at the United States Supreme Court.

The cases were between United States v. Leon (468 U. S. 902) and the other, Massachusetts v. Sheppard (468 U. S. 981) cases both decided in the same year. Generally, the rationale behind the good-faith exemption to the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule is to distinguish between the honest mistakes of the policeman from that which is done as a result of misconduct of the policeman. The distinction is that of intent of making an illegal search. The Supreme Court judge held that evidence that are gotten from illegal warrants that were issued as a result of judicial error should be admissible.

He claimed that since the policeman was acting in good faith, dismissing the evidence that is gotten from the search is allowing guilty people go free and this is detrimental, even to the Fourth Amendment itself. Although the good-faith exemption to the exclusionary rule has been hailed by several law enforcement agencies, there are obvious limitations to the exemption. It should be noted that the exemption is not aimed to nullify the provisions of the forth amendment that protects the privacy rights of individuals from arrests and seizures from issue of illegal warrants.

The good-faith exemption is limited in the sense that it only applies when the mistake comes from the ignorance of the policeman. As the judge that presided over the case maintained, the exclusionary rule is applicable where it is the policeman that illegally makes a search without a warrant from the appropriate quarters and not one that the fault comes from the judge. Such cases are often called honest mistakes that are made by the policeman who actually thought that the warrant issued is illegal.

In the Leon’s case, the Burbank policemen that made the search actually thought that he was acting on a legal warrant which was later discredited. In certain situations, the good faith exception does not apply and thus makes the exception narrow. These include the fact that it is not logical to say that a judicial officer would have stood on the sworn statement underlying the warrant. Also, the nature of warrants that are issued is that they become null and void if it does not contain information about where to be searched and what to be seized.

In addition to this, the principle does not apply when the warrant was gotten from an affidavit which, deliberately or carelessly, includes material falsehoods. Finally, the doctrine of good faith exemption fails when it has been established that the judge has “completely neglected his judicial role. ” Summarily, I believe that the good-faith exception is a fair doctrine. Considering the fact that most searches are done without warrants, the good-faith exemption to the exclusionary rule is still a step closer in the way justice.

I hold the position – that the purpose of the U. S. Constitutional law is to maintain law and order in the state and this should be its primary goal. I believe that the law should not protect criminals but expose them and as such any law. The law should not be a cover for the guilty, making them walk free from the offense they commit.


Hemmens C, Worrall JL, Thompson A. Criminal Justice Case Briefs: Significant Cases in Criminal Procedure. Los Angeles: Roxbury Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-931719-23-3