435 U.S. 268 (1978).

One-Sentence Takeaway: The exclusionary rule should be invoked with much greater reluctance where the claim is based on a causal relationship between a constitutional violation and the discovery of a live witness than when a similar claim is advanced to support suppression of an inanimate object.

Summary: The case involved attempts to suppress a witness’ testimony based on the exclusionary rule.

The Court noted: “Even in situations where the exclusionary rule is plainly applicable, we have declined to adopt a ‘per se’ or ‘but for’ rule that would make inadmissible any evidence, whether tangible or live-witness testimony, which somehow came to light through a chain of causation that began with an illegal arrest.”

Where the evidence in question in live witness testimony, the courts must apply a closer, more direct link between the illegality and live witness testimony. The Court observed that the testimony of a live witness, particularly when it is given of his own free will, is different than the discovery of an inanimate object. “[T]he degree of free will necessary to dissipate the taint will very likely be found more often in the case of live-witness testimony than other kinds of evidence. The time, place and manner of the initial questioning of the witness may be such that any statements are truly the product of detached reflection and a desire to be cooperative …” Id. at 276-277.  Whether the witness’ relationship to the defendant was already known is also a factor. Id. at 274 – 277. As well, disqualifying a knowledgeable witness from testifying at trial is a more serious obstruction to the administration of justice than the suppression of an object.

The Court concluded that “the exclusionary rule should be invoked with much greater reluctance where the claim is based on a causal relationship between a constitutional violation and the discovery of a live witness than when a similar claim is advanced to support suppression of an inanimate object.” Id. at 280.

Ceccolini is commonly viewed as establishing five factors to consider in determining whether to suppress the testimony of a live witness located as a result of an illegal search (a slightly different situation than that in the present case, in which the witnesses were located independent of the search). These factors are: (1) whether the testimony given by the witness was an act of free will or of coercion resulting from the initial illegality; (2) whether the illegality was used in questioning the witness; (3) how much time passed between the illegality, the contact with the witness, and the witness’ testimony; (4) whether the identity of the witness was known to the police before the illegal conduct; and (5) whether the illegality was made with the intention of finding a witness to testify against the defendant.

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