Hastings Law Journal


In the 1984 case of Nix v. Williams, the Supreme Court adopted the inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule, which admits illegally-obtained evidence if the prosecution can establish that the evidence would have been discovered by lawful means. Despite ongoing criticism and divided application of the nuances of the inevitable discovery doctrine, the requirement that the hypothetical independent source be "lawful" is one element that appears straightforward. Nevertheless, a pair of recent cases involving multiple parties has created yet another inter-circuit conflict, and has thrust the lawful means requirement to the forefront of the inevitable discovery debate.

The First Circuit has allowed the prosecution to rely on an illegal search of a third party in order to invoke the inevitable discovery doctrine against the relevant defendant, seizing on the Supreme Court's prohibition against vicarious exclusionary challenges. On the other hand, Judge Richard Posner, writing for the Seventh Circuit, has refused to allow the prosecution to rely on unlawful means, effectively interpreting the lawful means requirement as "lawful to the world." This Note asserts that Judge Posner's interpretation of the lawful means requirement of the inevitable discovery doctrine must be the correct one from the standpoint of justice. And while Judge Posner's analogy to concurrent causation in tort law is instructive, it is also subject to criticism. The better analogy is illustrated by the majority and minority conceptions of duty in negligence law, laid out in the seminal tort case, Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Company. Judge Andrews's "duty to the public at large" conception of duty should be injected into the inevitable discovery realm, so that the lawful means requirement is interpreted as "lawful to the world." This interpretation halts an unwarranted expansion of the inevitable discovery doctrine, and maintains the integrity of the exclusionary rule.

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