Burdeau V. Mcdowell

However, the United States Constitution and the Fourth Amendment in particular protects individuals only from governmental actions. The Court in Burdeau v. McDowell 256 U.S. 465 (1921) held that the exclusionary rule does not preclude the introduction of evidence obtained by an illegal search performed by private citizens. In the Burdeau case, an individual stole private papers from the defendant’s office. The private individual actually drilled into a safe of the defendant in order to obtain the documents. The thief who stole the papers then submitted the documents to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice relying on the documents charged the defendant with the criminal act of mail fraud. The defendant argued at the time of trial and also on appeal to the Supreme Court that the documents should not be admitted into evidence under the exclusionary rule of both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The United States Supreme Court stated:

“The Fourth Amendment gives protection against unlawful searches and seizures, and as shown in the previous cases, its protection applies to governmental action. Its origin and history clearly show that it was intended as a restraint upon the activities of sovereign authority, and was not intended to be a limitation upon other than governmental agencies; as against such authority it was the purpose of the Fourth Amendment to secure the citizen and the right of unmolested occupation of his dwelling and the possession of his property, subject to the right of seizure by process duly issued.”

The Supreme Court in applying the facts of this case to the Fourth Amendment found that the documents were not seized by a governmental authority. In fact, the governmental authority, the Department of Justice, did not have any knowledge of the documents until several months after they were stolen. Consequently, the United States Supreme Court found that the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights had not been violated because the action of stealing the documents was the act of a private individual and not a governmental entity.

California Authority

Formerly, under the “independent grounds” doctrine, evidence that was obtained in violation of the unreasonable search and seizure provision of the California Constitution could be excluded, even if the obtainment of that evidence did not violate the unreasonable search and seizure provision of the United States Constitution. Even though the language in the California Constitution is substantially identical to that of the United States Constitution with respect to unreasonable searches and seizures, the California Supreme Court interpreted the California Constitution to be more stringent than the United States Supreme Court. (See, e.g., People v. Brisendine (1975) Cal.3d 528, 545; People v. Longwill (1975) 14 Cal.3d 943, 951.)

However, the “independent grounds” doctrine was abolished by the Truth in Evidence provision of Proposition 8. The purpose of this provision was to eliminate independent state grounds for excluding illegally obtained evidence, thereby leaving the standards established by federal courts interpreting the United States Constitution as the sole basis for exclusion. (See, In re Lance W. (1985) 37 Cal.3d 873.)