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Wolf v. People of the State of Colorado

Only Exclusion Will Deter Violations

Justice Douglas wrote a dissenting opinion. He felt that the Fourth Amendment was applicable to the states and that evidence obtained in violation of it must be excluded from state as well as federal prosecutions. Without the exclusionary rule, the amendment would have no effective sanction.

Justice Murphy also wrote a dissenting opinion. He noted that there were three remedies possible in the enforcement of the search and seizure clause: judicial exclusion of the illegally obtained evidence; criminal prosecution of violators; and civil action against violators for trespassing.

Concerning criminal prosecutions for those violating the clause, Murphy noted that "Self-scrutiny is a lofty ideal, but its exaltation reaches new heights if we expect a District Attorney to prosecute himself or his associates for well-meaning violations of the search and seizure clause during a raid the District Attorney or his associates have ordered." Regarding a trespass action, a person can only receive the amount equal to the damage to physical property. If the officer searches carefully there will be no damage. Where punitive damages are permitted the plaintiff must show real ill will or malice to the defendant. "Surely it is not unreasonable to assume that one in honest pursuit of crime bears no malice toward the search victim." Murphy concluded that only the exclusion of illegally obtained evidence will deter violations of the search and seizure clause. Without judicial action, there are no effective sanctions available. Murphy felt that "Today's decision will do inestimable harm to the cause of fair police methods in our cities and states. Even more important, perhaps, it must have a tragic effect upon public respect for our judiciary." Murphy felt that the Court was now allowing lawlessness by officers of the law.

Justice Rutledge also wrote a dissent. He felt that unless the Fourth Amendment was enforced, it was a dead letter. He noted that "the version of the Fourth Amendment today held applicable to the states hardly rises to the dignity of a form of words; at best it is a pale and frayed carbon copy of the original, bearing little resemblance to the Amendment . . . I had heretofore thought to be an indispensable need for a democratic society."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953Wolf v. People of the State of Colorado - Significance, Due Process Represents A Living Principle, Only Exclusion Will Deter Violations, Impact