Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

Also referred to as the Derivative Evidence Doctrine, Fruit of the Poisonous Tree is a principle within the domain of criminal law that renders evidence that stems from an illegal search, apprehension, or interrogation as inadmissible. Put simply, evidence herein, referred to as the “fruit,” is tainted by virtue of being obtained through an unlawful search and seizure, referred to as the “poisonous tree.”

Pursuant to this doctrine, not only must unlawfully obtained evidence be excluded, but any evidence obtained or derived from the exploitation of that evidence shall also be deemed as tainted fruit of the poisonous tree. The genesis of this doctrine traces back to the landmark Supreme Court case, Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471 (1963).

For example, imagine that the police illegally search Carl Smith’s residence and confiscate a ledger book that shows his participation in drug deals. As a result, the ledger book seized is inadmissible at the trial against Carl Smith. This means that any evidence derived from the ledger book will also be suppressed as the “fruit of the poisonous tree.” If the police use information from the ledger to obtain a search warrant against listed buyers’ houses, the evidence resulting from those searches cannot be used against Carl Smith.

California Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Exceptions

The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree doctrine functions as an extension of the exclusionary rule, which precludes evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment from being introduced in criminal trial proceedings, subject to specific exceptions. There are four primary exceptions to this doctrine whereby the tainted evidence may be admissible, namely:

  • Independent source – The evidence is admissible if the prosecution establishes that it originated from a source separate from the original illegality.
  • Inevitable discovery – If the prosecution can establish that the evidence would have inevitably been discovered by law enforcement, regardless of the unconstitutional conduct, then the evidence will be admissible.
  • Intervening act of free will – An intervening act of free will by the defendant breaks the causal link between the evidence and the original illegal search and seizure, effectively removing the taint. For example, a defendant being released on their own recognizance following an illegal arrest, but subsequently returning to the police station to confess, would remove any taint from the confession.
  • Good faith exception – If evidence is obtained unlawfully, such as via a defective search warrant lacking probable cause, but the police officer acted in good faith, for instance, by obtaining a warrant signed by a judge, the evidence may not be excluded.

How Can a Federal Defense Lawyer Help?

A federal defense lawyer can assist with a Fruit of the Poisonous Tree evidence or interrogation in several ways. Firstly, they would review the police officer’s conduct to determine if they violated their client’s constitutional rights. If a violation occurred, the evidence derived from it is inadmissible, and the defense attorney can make a motion to suppress the evidence in court. Additionally, they can assist with determining if an interrogation was conducted using coercive tactics or if the defendant’s Miranda rights were not read correctly. Furthermore, the attorney might be able to negotiate with the prosecution and work out an agreement that would reduce any criminal charges. Ultimately, these efforts could help the accused obtain a more desirable outcome in their court case. With the help of a federal defense lawyer, individuals can ensure that their rights are being protected and that any evidence against them is obtained legally.

A federal defense lawyer can also help with the appeals process if needed. Should the defendant’s conviction be upheld and they wish to appeal, their attorney can provide legal representation throughout the process and ensure that their rights are not violated during any hearings or proceedings. Additionally, a competent attorney will review all the evidence and interrogations to ensure that the conviction was based on proper evidence and not derived from any illegal or unconstitutional methods. With their professional assistance, those facing criminal charges can fight for justice in court and seek a more desirable outcome for their case.

Contact A Criminal Defense Lawyer Today And Protect Your Rights

The Fruit of The Poisonous Tree doctrine is a complex area of the law. Consult RP Defense Law, APC in Encino, California, for advice on whether the evidence gathered against you should be thrown out.

Call us at (818) 646-3443 or contact us online