The Doctrine of Inevitable Discovery: A Plea for Reasonable Limitations
50 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2009
Date Written: Winter 1988
In reinstating the Iowa murder conviction of Robert Williams, the Supreme Court accepted explicitly for the first time the doctrine of inevitable discovery. Applied for some time by state and federal courts, the doctrine of inevitable discovery is a means by which evidence obtained illegally can still be admitted against defendants in criminal cases. Unfortunately, the Court chose to adopt the doctrine without any of the safeguards necessary to insure that the deterrent impact of the exclusionary rule would be preserved, and in a form that is subject to and almost invites abuse.
This article warns of the danger to fundamental constitutional protections posed by the open-ended approach taken by the Supreme Court to the doctrine of inevitable discovery in Nix v. Williams (Williams II). It then recommends a means of applying the doctrine so as to accomplish its purpose of avoiding unwarranted exclusion of probative evidence without significantly diluting the impact of the exclusionary rule.
Keywords: doctrine of inevitable discovery, Supreme Court, evidence obtained illegally, criminal law, exclusionary rule, constitutional protections
JEL Classification: K14, K49
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation