United States v. Havens, 446 U.S. 620 (1980)

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This opinion made it easier for the government to impeach defendants for false statements given during trial, allowing impeachment even based on statements given during cross-examination as long as the subject matter was ‘‘reasonably suggested’’ on direct examination. Havens and an acquaintance, both attorneys from Indiana, were stopped by customs returning to the United States from Peru. The other man was carrying cocaine that had been sewn into his shirt. He implicated Havens, whose luggage was searched without a warrant, revealing a T-shirt whose holes matched the patches in his accomplice’s shirt. During cross-examination at trial, Havens denied any knowledge of the cocaine or the shirt in his luggage, but these misstatements impeached his credibility and helped convict him of smuggling cocaine. The Court of Appeals reversed his conviction, charging that illegally obtained evidence—here gained without a warrant—could only be used to impeach a witness if it contradicts a defendant’s statement on direct examination. Although the Fourth Amendment protects citizens from illegal searches and seizures, the Court had already undermined that protection by allowing illegally seized evidence to be used at trial. The Supreme Court further relaxed the rule by allowing that a defendant’s statements during cross-examination can also be the basis for impeachment, even if the impeachment relies on illegally obtained evidence. The Court emphasized the underlying goal of seeking the truth in criminal trials, which overcame the procedural barriers set up by prior cases against using information gained during cross-examination. The dissenting opinion aptly cast this decision as part of a trend in the Court of undermining the rights of criminal defendants.


References and Further Reading

  • The Exclusionary Rule: Impeachment Exception Broadened to Include Statements First Elicited Upon Cross-Examination— United States v. Havens, DePaul Law Review 30 (1980): 225–242.
  • United States v. Havens: Impeachment by Illegally Obtained Evidence, Syracuse Law Review 32 (1981): 637–679.
  • Williams, Teresa Sigmon, Recent Development: Criminal Law and Procedure—Evidence—Impeachment of Cross- Examination Response with Suppressed Evidence, Tennessee Law Review 48 (1981): 721–740.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • United States v. Havens, 446 U.S. 620 (1980)