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James v. Illinois


Police officers believed that James was involved in a shooting that left one person dead and another seriously injured. The day after the shooting, officers located James in a beauty parlor and took him into custody. At that time, James had black, curly hair. In response to questioning, James told the officers that on the previous day his hair had been reddish-brown, long and combed straight back. James said he had gone to the beauty parlor to have his hair dyed black and curled in order to change his appearance.

The trial court later ruled that the officers lacked probable cause to support their warrantless arrest of James. As a result, the court held that James’ statements concerning his hair were the fruit of a Fourth Amendment violation; therefore, they would not be admissible at trial.

At trial, witnesses for the state testified that the shooter had “reddish” slicked-back hair. James did not testify. However, a family friend testified for the defense, claiming that James’ hair had been black on the day of the shooting. The state then sought to introduce James’ suppressed statements concerning his hair to impeach the credibility of the defense witness’ testimony.


Whether the impeachment exception to the exclusionary rule allows the prosecution in a criminal case to introduce illegally obtained evidence to impeach the testimony of all defense witnesses.


No. Illegally obtained evidence may not be used to impeach the testimony of a defense witness other than the defendant.


The Court felt that expanding the impeachment exception to all defense witnesses would have a chilling effect on a defendant’s ability to present his defense for three reasons. First, defense witnesses pose difficult challenges. Hostile witnesses called by the defense might willingly invite impeachment. Friendly defense witnesses might, through simple carelessness, subject themselves to impeachment. Also, expanding the impeachment exception to encompass the testimony of all defense witnesses would dissuade some defendants from calling witnesses who would otherwise offer probative evidence.

Second, the defendant rarely fears a perjury prosecution since the substantive charge is usually much more compelling. A witness other than the defendant fears a prosecution for perjury. Therefore, the Court’s need to deter perjured testimony is less than where the witness is the defendant, so that illegally obtained evidence can be introduced against them.

Third, expansion of the exception would significantly weaken the exclusionary rules’ deterrent effect on police misconduct by opening the door inadvertently to the admission of any illegally obtained evidence. This expansion would enhance the expected value to the prosecution of illegally obtained evidence by increasing the number of occasions when evidence could be used.


493 U.S. 307, 100 S. Ct. 648 (1990)

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