good faith exception | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Policing / Procedural Law

The good faith exception is an exception to the exclusionary rule allowing for the admission of illegally obtained evidence when police act in an honest belief that they have lawful authority to search for and seize evidence, such as when relying on a defective warrant.

The good-faith exception is a legal principle that has evolved in the criminal justice system to permit the use of evidence obtained through a search or seizure that was conducted in good faith by law enforcement, even if it was later found to be in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The exclusionary rule, which is derived from the Fourth Amendment, provides that evidence obtained through an unconstitutional search or seizure is inadmissible in court. The rule is intended to deter police misconduct and protect citizens’ rights from unreasonable searches and seizures. However, the exclusionary rule has its limitations and can lead to the exclusion of relevant and reliable evidence that may have been obtained in good faith. This is where the good-faith exception comes into play.

The good faith exception was first recognized by the Supreme Court in United States v. Leon (1984). The court held that evidence obtained by police in objectively reasonable reliance on a search warrant that is later found to be defective can still be admitted at trial. The court reasoned that the exclusionary rule is meant to deter police misconduct and that it would not serve this purpose to exclude evidence obtained in good faith.

The good faith exception has been expanded to other scenarios as well. For example, in Herring v. United States (2009), the court held that the exclusionary rule did not apply when police obtained a warrant to arrest an individual based on outdated information in a police database. The court found that the police acted in good faith and that the exclusion of the evidence would not serve to deter future police misconduct.

While some have praised the good faith exception as a practical and reasonable limitation on the exclusionary rule, others have criticized it as undermining the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Critics argue that the exception creates a loophole that allows police to violate the Fourth Amendment without consequence, so long as they acted in good faith.

The good faith exception also raises questions about the role of judges in determining the reasonableness of police conduct. Some argue that judges should defer to the judgment of police officers, while others argue that judges should play a more active role in evaluating the reasonableness of police conduct.

Learn More

On This Site

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 04/08/2023


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.