Law enforcement officers stopped a man named McLeroth and searched him, finding cocaine in makeshift pockets in his underclothes. McLeroth implicated the defendant, who was then illegally seized and searched. The officers found a tee shirt in the defendant’s luggage from which pieces had been cut. These missing pieces matched McLeroth’s makeshift pockets.
The government tried the defendant for conspiracy to import cocaine. The trial court suppressed all evidence of the tee shirt as the fruit of an illegal search. The defendant testified in his own defense. During a proper cross-examination, the prosecutor asked the defendant if he had anything to do with sewing pockets into McLeroth’s underclothes. The defendant answered “absolutely not.”
The prosecutor offered to introduce evidence of the tee shirt for the limited purpose of impeaching the defendant’s credibility. The court admitted the shirt over defense objections, with an instruction to the jury that they could not consider the shirt as evidence of a crime, but that they could consider it in deciding whether the defendant had testified truthfully.
Whether evidence suppressed as the fruit of an unlawful search and seizure may nevertheless be used to impeach a defendant’s perjury?
Yes. Suppressed evidence can be used to impeach a defendant who perjures himself.
Defendants who lie on the witness stand do so at their peril. Our courts work best when witnesses tell the truth. Therefore, the courts have developed a strong public policy against perjury.
The exclusionary rule is not constitutionally mandated. Rather, it is a creation of case law, designed to discourage officers from violating the Constitution. As case law, the exclusionary rule is subject to judge-made exceptions based on public policy.
Here, the Supreme Court decided that the policy against perjury is sufficiently strong to limit the action of the exclusionary rule to direct evidence against a defendant. If a defendant chooses to take the stand and lie, evidence that would normally be inadmissible against him will now be admissible for the limited purpose of showing that the defendant is not truthful.
446 U.S. 620, 100 S. Ct. 1912 (1980)