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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Kansas v. Ventris: Exclusionary rule unnecessary to protect against Sixth Amendment violation through jailhouse snitch

Ventris was charged with murder and other crimes. The state planted another defendant in his cell as a "human listening device," even though Ventris’ right to counsel had attached. Predictably, Ventris made incriminating statements to his cellmate. The state later conceded that it violated Ventris’ Sixth Amendment right to counsel when it surreptitiously planted the snitch in Ventris’ jail cell. The state was prohibited from using the confession in its case-in-chief, but was allowed to use it to impeach Ventris’ own testimony at trial. Kansas held that such use was impermissible under the federal exclusionary rule and conceded that it had violated Ventris’ Sixth Amendment rights. The Supreme Court held 7-2 that this violation did not require exclusion of the informant’s testimony when offered for purposes of impeachment, reasoning that the Sixth Amendment violation occurred when the uncounseled interrogation was conducted, not at trial The question whether to exclude the statement at trial was a separate question, involving the "remedy" for the violation. The Court concluded that the interest in exclusion was outweighed by the need to prevent perjury and the integrity of the trial process. The Court found little appreciable police deterrence would occur as a result of exclusion because police, if they opted to obtain uncounseled statements, could not likely anticipate that the defendant would testify at trial, and would testify inconsistently with the prior uncounseled statement. Ominously, the Court refused to confirm Kansas’s concession of a Sixth Amendment violation, opening a wide door in future cases for the state or federal government to argue that no constitutional violation occurs where police obtain a voluntary statement by way of a jailhouse snitch.