109 Iowa L. Rev. 661 (2024)
We conduct in-depth archival research of landmark constitutional criminal procedure cases and find two ways in which the declarations of the vindication of rights they contain are misleading. First, most defendants who successfully establish police violations of their constitutional rights before the highest court in the land nonetheless remain in prison for years or decades subsequently. The multitude of ways in which the state can convict the individual defendant even in the face of one or more constitutional violations means that the Supreme Court precedents that bear their names seldom translate to genuine wins for the defendants. Second, there are often overwhelming hurdles to finding out what happened, even for legal experts and even in landmark cases—suggesting that holding the state accountable in ordinary cases and for ordinary people must be close to impossible. Transcripts are unavailable, individual official discretion determines if files are accessible, files are missing, extraordinarily high fees apply even where transcripts are available, and there are numerous other sometimes insurmountable barriers to researching these topics.
The fact that even those who win landmark criminal procedure cases typically remain in prison has significant doctrinal implications. The modern Supreme Court weighs “costs to society” in assessing whether to apply the exclusionary rule or Miranda protections, but our findings mean that these costs are less than they appear. Further, we argue that this opaque informational legal ecosystem masks the power of prosecutors and prevents accountability and transparency, hampering the rule of law. Accordingly, this Article has implications for specific doctrines as well as the orientation of the criminal justice system more generally.