Hannah Pressley

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The inevitable discovery doctrine is an exception to the rule that evidence obtained by the government in violation of the Fourth Amendment will be excluded at trial. Under the inevitable discovery doctrine, illegally obtained evidence will be admissible at trial if the government can establish that it would have discovered the evidence even if the Fourth Amendment violation had not occurred. In United States v. Watkins, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, sitting en banc, addressed the following question: what is the standard of proof that the government must meet to show that illegally obtained evidence would have been inevitably discovered? For decades, the Eleventh Circuit adhered to circuit precedent and held that the government had to show only a “reasonable probability” that the evidence would have been inevitably discovered, despite the fact that the 1984 landmark Supreme Court of the United States decision recognizing the inevitable discovery exception, Nix v. Williams, clearly stated that government should be required to satisfy the preponderance of the evidence standard. Perhaps bowing to the inevitable, in Watkins, the en banc Eleventh Circuit overruled its prior precedent and brought the law of the circuit into conformity with the Supreme Court and the other circuits.

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