Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine
The ‘fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine’ is a legal principle that serves as an evidentiary rule, which disallows the admission of specific evidence during a trial, if it was obtained through illegally obtained evidence that precedes it. This concerns tangible evidence such as drugs or weapons and any information attained from a suspect during a police interrogation using deceptive or unlawful means. The doctrine was established in 1914 after a police search conducted at a defendant’s domicile produced specific evidence, consequently leading to a conviction. The Supreme Court’s decision was repealed after the revelation of an illegal search being conducted, leading to the establishment of the exclusionary rule. The Silverthorne Lumber Co. V. United States case introduced the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine.
How does the doctrine pertain to the exclusionary rule?
The exclusionary rule stipulates that any evidence acquired in contravention of the Constitution is inadmissible in a legal proceeding. The fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine essentially serves as a supplementary principle to the exclusionary rule, expanding its jurisdiction to encompass all evidence obtained through unlawful means. This may contain an unlawful act of searching and confiscating possessions or the apprehension carried out by law enforcement officers. Evidence subject to the exclusionary rule is commonly referred to as the ‘poisonous tree,’ whereas the term ‘fruit’ pertains to evidence obtained as a direct result of the ‘tree.’
Exceptions to the exclusionary cause
There are three important situations when the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine does not apply. The proof won’t be left out if:
- If the source that revealed the information was completely separate from the illegal activity, then the information can be considered valid and used.
- The discovery of something was bound to happen: If the prosecution can show that the evidence would have been found by the police even if they didn’t violate the Constitution, then the evidence can be used in court.
- Someone made a conscious choice that interrupted the sequence of events: This choice will prevent the evidence from the original illegal search from being considered. For instance, if a person who was wrongly arrested and then set free without bail went voluntarily to the police station to admit their guilt.
The fourth exception
There is something known as the good-faith exception, an exception to the exclusionary rule. If police can unlawfully get the main evidence in a case connected to illegally obtained evidence, but they did so with good intentions, then that evidence can be used in court.
The good-faith exception means that if police officers sincerely believed they were following the law when they conducted a search and found something, then the evidence they obtained can be used in court.
For instance, if a search warrant was not valid due to a lack of proper reason, but the police officer believed in good faith that it was valid because a judge had approved it, then the evidence would still be allowed. This might not appear fair to the person who is being accused, but it is a special case.
Advantages and disadvantages of the fruit from the poisonous tree
Finding accidental or illegal evidence can sometimes benefit those who have been accused of crimes, even though it is technically not allowed. But this could pose a significant problem for the police or the legal system. Sometimes, it may even be considered as a barrier to admitting evidence.
Although the idea of the fruit of the poisonous tree does not directly apply to civil cases such as debt lawsuits, there are numerous ways in which debt collectors can still violate the law and render their evidence unusable.
Establishing the illegitimate acquisition of evidence can present a formidable challenge when it comes to convincing a judge or jury, particularly if undertaken by a novice attorney. A highly skilled defense lawyer can adeptly maneuver through the complexities of the legal doctrine and construct a solid argument to challenge the validity of any unlawfully obtained evidence. Having a skilled defense attorney by your side from the time of your arrest or accusation is crucial, as the exclusion of unlawful evidence can frequently result in the complete dismissal of the case.
- Related Articles:
- What is a ‘Motion to Suppress’ Evidence?
- The Difference Between Direct vs. Circumstantial Evidence
- What is Lack of Probable Cause in Criminal Law?
- California Penal Code 995: Motion to Dismiss
Need an Attorney? CALL NOW: 310-274-6529
Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Attorney who has over 22 years of practice defending a variety of cases.