Weeks v. United States
Weeks v. United States marked the creation of the exclusionary rule, which originally stated that evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure could not be used against a person in federal court.
Before the decision in Weeks v. United States, the courts admitted illegally seized material as evidence to avoid allowing guilty parties to go free. The rights of the individual were considered less important than the administration of justice. This case marked a turning point in the Court's thinking. With the introduction of the exclusionary rule, the Court devised a way of enforcing the Fourth Amendment, which prohibited unreasonable searches and seizures. Since evidence seized unlawfully could no longer be used in federal court against a defendant, a prosecutor might lose or drop a case for lack of evidence. Thus, in theory, the police would be careful to obtain search warrants and make sure their searches and seizures were legal.
On 21 December 1911, a police officer arrested Fremont Weeks, without a warrant, at his place of employment. Other police officers went to his house and searched Weeks's room, without a search warrant. The officers seized books, letters, money, papers, stocks, deeds, candies, clothes, and other property, which they turned over to the U.S. marshal. Later the same day, the police returned with the marshal, who seized letters and envelopes found in a drawer. The marshal did not have a search warrant. The material was given to the district attorney. Weeks asked for the return of his property, so the court ordered those things which were not pertinent to the case to be returned. The district attorney returned some of the property, but kept what was pertinent to the alleged sale of lottery tickets. After the jury had been sworn in, but before any evidence had been given, Weeks asked for the rest of his property to be returned. The court denied this request. When Weeks's papers were introduced as evidence at the trial, he objected on the ground that the papers had been obtained without a search warrant and by breaking into his home, violating the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. The court overruled the objection. The lottery tickets and letters regarding the lottery were used as evidence against Weeks.
Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Weeks v. United States - Significance, Great Principles Must Not Be Sacrificed, A Personal Right Of The Defendant?, Impact