Provisions in Senate Crime Bill Would Eviscerate Fourth and Fifth Amendments
Washington, DC (March 23, 1995) -- Proposals that would corrode the constitutional pillars of our legal system and undermine our cherished American democracy are now making their way through Congress.
S.3, the new crime bill introduced by the Senate Republican leadership, contains -- among its major provisions affecting federal constitutional and criminal law -- Section 507(a), which shifts to the defendant the burden of proving that a confession was obtained in violation of the Fifth Amendment. Such a relaxing of the government's responsibilities in criminal prosecutions is inconsistent with the scheme of limited government embodied in the Bill of Rights and vouchsafed for over 200 years by the judicial branch of government.
Similarly, in the spirit of expediency, S.3's Section 507(b) would abolish the exclusionary rule, under which evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment is excluded from consideration in criminal cases, and Section 507(c) would substitute a civil tort remedy in place of the exclusionary rule as a remedy for police lawlessness. Since -- as the courts have consistently held -- exclusion of evidence is the only effective mechanism for enforcing the Fourth Amendment's limits on government intrusions into citizens' privacy, elimination of the exclusionary rule removes the very life from the Fourth Amendment and licenses individual law enforcement agents to decide for themselves whose homes they'll search.
Both of these proposals seek to usurp the fundamental role of the judicial branch in interpreting the Constitution and preserving its constrains against abuses by officials who act with the shield of the government.
NACDL President Gerald H. Goldstein of San Antonio, Texas, alerted the Senate Judiciary Committee to the serious, historic dangers of these extreme proposals in testimony earlier this month. Following is a summary of that testimony. The complete text is available upon request.