The “fruit of the poisonous tree” is a legal doctrine that is used to exclude evidence at trial that was obtained through some sort of illegal action by law enforcement. This doctrine is based on the idea that if the initial action – such as an illegal search or seizure – is tainted or “poisoned,” then any evidence subsequently derived from that illegal action is also tainted and should be excluded from use in court.
The doctrine is designed to deter law enforcement officers from engaging in unlawful conduct. Under the Fourth Amendment, homeowners should not be subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures. Even if the police find viable evidence – such as illegal drugs in someone’s home – they may not be allowed to use that evidence in court if they obtained it illegally or by violating the person’s rights.
An example of how this could occur
This doctrine comes into play when law enforcement engages in an illegal or unconstitutional action. For instance, perhaps the police want to search a person’s home, but they do not have a warrant, there is no emergency and they do not get the homeowner’s consent. If they force their way inside anyway, it is a violation of the homeowner’s rights.
As a result, any evidence discovered or obtained as a direct result of the illegal action is considered tainted or poisoned. This evidence can include physical items, statements made by the suspect or other information. It could even be conclusive evidence that would otherwise likely lead to a conviction – illegal drugs, unauthorized firearms, stolen property, etc. – but has to be excluded from court due to the way the police discovered it.
There are some exceptions to this doctrine. In some cases, evidence can still be used if the prosecution can demonstrate that the evidence would have been discovered independently through legal means or that it was inevitable that the evidence would have been discovered. But, as a general rule, the police have to follow the proper procedures or risk losing the ability to use evidence against the accused.
Are you facing charges?
If you’re facing serious criminal charges, do you think that the police may have violated your rights when conducting a search, making an arrest or something else of this nature? It’s very important to look into the legal defense options you have to keep illegal evidence from impacting the outcome of your situation. Seeking legal guidance promptly, therefore, is wise.