Monday, March 02, 2009

Exclusion or Damages

The exclusionary rule, which sometimes prevents prosecutors from introducing illegally obtained evidence in criminal trials, increases crime rates by weakening deterrence, according to Paul H. Rubin, writing in WSJ.com on Saturday. Rubin cites his own 2003 paper (with Raymond Atkins), which found that the rule substantially increased rates of larceny, auto theft, burglary, robbery, and assault. As a result, he says, Justice Roberts understated the costs of the rule when he wrote recently, in Herring v. United States (which weakened the exclusionary rule), that the rule allows "guilty and possibly dangerous defendants" to go free.

Rubin proposes, as an alternative to the exclusionary rule, "deterrence of police misconduct through a system of civil damages paid by the police department for improper searches." The potential for civil damages, he says, "would give police departments incentives to be cautious in performing searches, but might be less costly for the rest of us in terms of its effect on crime rates."

It is not clear, though, why Rubin assumes that a strong civil damages system would have less of an effect on crime rates than the exclusionary rule. One would expect money damages to reduce operating budgets at police departments, police departments, as a result, to catch fewer criminals, and criminals, as a result, to be less deterred. The comparative efficiency of the exclusionary rule and civil damages as measured by benefit to police conduct and cost in crime is an empirical question that Rubin doesn't mention. (In case it matters to anyone, I support a strong civil damages regime in addition to, not instead of, the exclusionary rule. If I thought I knew which one was more efficient, and I thought it feasible, including politically, to deter misconduct adequately through that one alone, I would, I imagine, oppose the other.)

The civil damages proposal is also surprising coming from Rubin, who not too long ago published (with Joanna M. Shepherd) a law review article concluding that the whole United States tort system is unjustifiable, specifically because it doesn't deter effectively. (SSRN See pages 223, 235). While generalizing to the whole tort system, the focus of that article was on non-motor-vehicle accidental death cases, which, according to the authors, actually increase accidental deaths. The most important reason for this outcome, the article says, is that many of the defendants in these cases—doctors and makers of medicines and protective equipment—are engaged in reducing, not increasing risk. (p. 222). I may well be missing something, but to me it seems that an analogous point applies to police departments, which are, after all, charged with preventing some of the same types of misconduct that can result in exclusion under the exclusionary rule (breaking into your home, for example, and taking your things). If Rubin really does support a strong civil damages system to deter police misconduct, it would be interesting to know why he doesn't view it in the same light as he does other kinds of tort cases.

--posted by David Gold

8 comments:

egarber said...

Since (I'm assuming) the exclusionary rule emanates from the fourth amendment, isn't a civil solution to benefit society generally the equivalent of trading an *individual* right for a collective one?

Paul Scott said...

The fundamental issue to me is whether the exclusionary rule should be replaced with something else that has the same purported beneficial effects (deterring police misconduct) without the negative effects (letting criminals get away with crime)*.

Excepting the * note below, it is not difficult to see that the following statements are both true:

1. Police officers should be discouraged from infringing on personal rights and 2. criminals should be punished. The exclusionary rule puts those two "truths" in conflict and thus is a bad rule. It should, if possible, be replaced with a new remedy that can serve both of those goals.

To me, the obvious solution is 1. punish police officers that violate the 4A and 2. allow evidence obtained in violation of the 4A. Those two matters should be dealt with independently. Achieving the second part is easy - reverse the decision(s) that created the exclusionary rule and be done with it. If that is done, however, a new remedy must be put in place.

The good thing about these being independent is that you can test the new remedy's effectiveness before doing away with the ER. The existence of the ER does not prevent laws that would discipline police officers for violating the 4A.

I would recommend the creation of an independent disciplinary review board (possibly one that could work with currently existing IADs or possibly one that should be fully independent). This board would oversee the investigation of 4A violation complains and be broadly empowered to hand down appropriate disciplinary sanctions up to and including dismissal with referral and recommendation to pursue criminal charges.

Something like this could be tested and tweaked for years or decades even. Eventually, the proper balance would be reached such that the board and procedures would provide as much (or hopefully far more) incentive for officers to respect the 4A so that the RE could be eliminated.

In partial response to egarber, the RE is not a right, it is a remedy for the violation of a right. There are so many things wrong with the remedy (barely touched on above) but one that I will note specifically in response to your comment is that the RE does nothing at all to help a person whose 4A rights have been violated but who also happened to be innocent of any crime. If the police violate the rights of the innocent, there is no remedy (outside of the political process).
______
*This is analysis is complicated, unfortunately, by the proliferation of morally questionable crimes. That is, I think an overwhelming majority of people (probably very close to 100%) think murder is appropriately criminalized. I think a much much smaller percent think recreational drug use is appropriately criminalized. This enters in to play only because I think the exclusionary rule ends up doing no harm when the "criminal" it sets free is on trial for a crime a good portion of America would not consider important (and whom many would affirmatively say should not be criminal at all).

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