United States v. Janis
Deciding what evidence is admissible in court, and for what purposes, is one of the most difficult parts of criminal law for the courts to interpret. In some circumstances, evidence in the United States can be excluded not because of the nature of the evidence itself, but because of the manner in which it was obtained. In United States v. Janis, criminal defendants attempted to have a civil penalty refunded after they were prosecuted using illegal evidence. The case is generally considered to be a substantial weakening of the exclusionary rule.
Two Bookies and a Civil Suit
Max Janis was a An officer wrote an affidavit that police used as justification to investigate Janis and have a warrant issued for a search of his residence. When the police arrived at Janis's residence, they found about $5000 in cash as well as several records of bets that people had placed with Levine and his accomplice, Morris Levine.
After the two were arrested for bookmaking charges, the police turned over the records they had found to the Internal Revenue Service, which charges special taxes on money that is earned through illegal methods. The IRS calculated an estimated total profit for the bookies, based on looking at their bookmaking records and multiplying it by the amount of time the bookies had been in business. Then, a two percent tax was charged on that amount.
The criminal charges pertaining to bookmaking were eventually thrown out, because Janis's attorney was able to show that the warrant used to procure the evidence was improper. Because of this, Janis asked for his $5000 to be returned and for the tax penalties against him to be lifted.
The Exclusionary Rule
The exclusionary rule states that convictions cannot be made based on evidence that was improperly obtained. The purpose of the exclusionary rule is to ensure that police are dissuaded from improperly gathering evidence. If police were allowed to simply use improperly obtained evidence in a court of law, there would be little reason for them to follow procedures.
The refund that Janis asked for in United States v. Janis was denied at the district court level. A court of appeals affirmed the district court's ruling, saying that the exclusionary rule did not apply to a civil judgment, but only to criminal proceedings and the verdict in the case.
The Supreme Court's Ruling
In United States v. Janis, the government argued that because the exclusionary rule was designed to prevent future misbehavior by the police, Janis paying money to the IRS would not actually be something that the exclusionary rule was designed to cover. The court agreed, ruling in a 5-3 decision that Janis was still obligated to pay his taxes on the illicitly gained income.
This case limited the exclusionary rule in a significant way, and future cases would do more to narrow the scope of the exclusionary rule. In fact, this erosion was anticipated by the dissents in United States v. Janis. The dissenting judges believed that it was necessary to have a robust exclusionary rule in order to ensure the highest standards of conduct for law enforcement officers and government officials.