In Weeks v. United States, the Supreme Court held that evidence seized during an illegal search by a federal law enforcement officer is inadmissible in a federal trial.
Two separate but related searches and seizures occurred. First, police officers went to defendant Weeks’s home while he was absent and entered his home without his permission and without a warrant. They seized several letters and papers that incriminated Weeks in conducting an illegal lottery. The officers gave these items to the U.S. Marshal.
The Marshal later went to Weeks’s home with police officers and searched Weeks’s room, again without Weeks’s knowledge or consent and without a warrant, and seized additional items.
After Weeks filed for a return of the items seized, the district court ordered a return only of those items not materially affecting the trial. The Supreme Court stated that the Fourth Amendment placed limitations and restraints on federal courts and officials, and to allow such documents to be seized without a warrant and used against the accused would be to render the Fourth Amendment useless and have the same effect as striking it from the Constitution.
The Supreme Court held that the warrant-less seizure of items by a federal officer was a violation of Weeks’s Fourth Amendment rights. This created what has come to be known as the exclusionary rule. The Court did not address a remedy for the warrantless seizure by the police since, at that time, the Fourth Amendment only applied to federal officials.
SUZANNE L. DIAZ
See also Exclusionary Rule; Fourteenth Amendment; Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961); Search Warrants; Seizures; Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25 (1949)