A key part of Gov. Charles S. Robb's crime package that would have relaxed the ban against illegally seized evidence in criminal trials was killed today in a House committee.
Del. Richard Cranwell (D-Roanoke), who sponsored the legislation, asked that the controversial bill creating exceptions under the "exclusionary rule"--opposed by ranking members of the House Courts of Justice committee and civil liberties groups--be defeated because the issue soon will be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
The exclusionary rule, established by a Supreme Court decision in 1961, is hotly defended by some as a safeguard against abuses by police and attacked by others as a hindrance to law enforcement.
Robb, together with Attorney General Gerald Baliles, has twice asked the legislature to amend the rule to allow a "good faith" exception in cases where police can show they acted in a "reasonable manner." The bill was a key component in a package of Robb crime bills announced last December, most of which cleared the House courts committee today.
Voted out of committee was a bill that would allow the creation of multi-jurisdictional grand juries to investigate and indict in drug cases. That bill and several others in the Robb package survived today despite objections from defense-lawyer members of the committee who traditionally make short work of the numerous get-tough-on-crime bills that swamp the committee.
Also passed was a wiretap bill that would allow police to use information from wiretaps to prosecute felonies, even when the felonies were not included on the original wiretap order granted by a court. Under Virginia law, wiretaps can only be granted in investigations of violent felonies and political corruption cases.
Cranwell, whose identical exclusionary rule bill was defeated last year after a rousing debate on the House floor, said later that he had used the bill as "leverage" to get Robb's grand jury bill out of the House courts committee.
"It was not a trade-off, it was leverage," he said.
Several legislators said yesterday that the wiretap bill, criticized as an invasion of privacy, survived only at the expense of the exclusionary rule proposal. "I think that was very helpful in getting the wiretap bill out," said Del. Chip Woodrum (D-Roanoke).
The House courts committee today also approved a bill originally designed to quell police fears about the use of Teflon-coated bullets capable of piercing bulletproof vests. That bill, altered by the Robb administration to satisfy objections by the National Rifle Association, was further amended in committee to make use of Teflon bullets an additional felony in crimes of violence.