U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Societal Cost of the Exclusionary Rule: An Empirical Assessment

NCJ Number
American Bar Foundation Research Journal Volume: 1983 Issue: 3 Dated: (Summer 1983) Pages: 585-609
Date Published
25 pages
A key criticism of the search and seizure exclusionary rule is that it exacts heavy societal costs in the form of lost prosecutions and that such costs outweigh any demonstrated social benefits.
To examine the costs of three exclusionary rules, data were collected for 7,500 cases in a 9-county study of criminal courts in three States (Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania). Medium-sized counties were selected because they were large enough to produce variance in cases, yet not so large that their size would prevent the research team from gaining a thorough understanding of how the county court system operated. The results demonstrated that various exclusionary rules exacted only marginal social costs. Motions to suppress physical evidence were filed in fewer than five percent of the cases and these cases primarily involved drugs and weapons. Serious motions to suppress physical evidence occurred in only 0.69 percent of the cases, while successful motions to suppress identifications or confessions occurred much less often. In addition, not all who successfully suppressed evidence escaped conviction, especially when only an identification or a confession was suppressed. In total, only 46 cases were lost because of the 3 exclusionary rules combined, and most of them involved offenses that would have incurred less than 6 months of imprisonment or first offenders. The impact of unsuccessful motions on subsequent plea bargaining was marginal; only unsuccessful motions to exclude confessions resulted in any real sentencing concessions. 56 footnotes and 16 tables (Author abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 1983