Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine

October 8, 2013 in 4th Amendment Rights, Citizen's Rights, Legal Information, Uncategorized, Unwarranted Search

The fruit of the poisonous tree may sound like on odd term but it’s significance in the world of criminal procedure is crucial. In its most basic sense, the fruit of the poisonous tree is a legal metaphor used to describe evidence that is obtained illegally. If the source of the evidence or evidence itself (the “tree”) is tainted, then anything gained from it (the “fruit”) is tainted as well.

For example, evidence that is obtained through obtaining a confession that is inadmissible because it was not given voluntarily is not admissible and the Supreme Court has held that the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine applies to such evidence. (Harrison v. United States, 392 U.S. 219 (1968)).  Further, evidence which was discovered by following leads obtained through an unlawful search and seizure is also inadmissible. (Alderman v. United States, 394 U.S. 165 (1969)).

However there is a fine line between what is considered admissible evidence and what is considered inadmissible evidence under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. Under Illinois law, the test to be applied is whether the evidence has been obtained by an exploitation of the illegality or by means sufficiently distinguishable to be purged of the primary taint. (People v. Satek, 78 Ill. App. 3d 543 (1979)).

Moreover, evidence will not be deemed fruit of the poisonous tree if: (1) the evidence was discovered by an independent source; (2) the evidence was sufficiently distant in causal connection from the illegal search and seizure so that the connection has become so attenuated as to dissipate the taint; or (3) the evidence inevitably would have been gained even without the unlawful search. (People v. Williams, 79 Ill. App. 3d 817 (1979)).

In conclusion, while the term fruit of the poisonous tree may sound odd, its importance in criminal procedure is paramount. The doctrine is meant to prevent the admission of evidence obtained as a result of illegal conduct, not evidence obtained from an independent source. (People v. Babolcsay, 368 Ill. App. 3d 712 (2006)).

(1) (Harrison v. United States, 392 U.S. 219 (1968))
(2) (Alderman v. United States, 394 U.S. 165 (1969))
(3) (People v. Satek, 78 Ill. App. 3d 543 (1979))
(4) (People v. Williams, 79 Ill. App. 3d 817 (1979))
(5) (People v. Babolcsay, 368 Ill. App. 3d 712 (2006))

The Plain View Doctrine and its Relation to the Fourth Amendment

September 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

In its literal sense, the plain view doctrine exists to allow an officer to seize, without a warrant, evidence and contraband found in plain view during a lawful observation.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, however a search implies prying into hidden places for that which is concealed. It is not a search to observe that which is in open view. (People v. Wright, 41 Ill. 2d 170 (1968)).

For instance, if an officer enters premises on legitimate business, an illegal search does not occur if the officer allows his “eyes to wander.” Property discovered by a policeman lawfully present for the purpose of making an arrest, or for some other lawful purpose, is not protected against use at trial. (People v. Vaglica, 99 Ill. App. 2d 194 (1968)).

The plain view doctrine authorizes the warrantless seizure of an item when three requirements are met: (a) the officer must be lawfully present in the location from which he can plainly see the evidence; (b) it must be immediately apparent that the object in plain view is evidence; and (c) the officer must have a lawful right of access to the object. (People v. Moore, 328 Ill. App. 3d 1047 (2002)).

However, if the police officer lacks probable cause to believe that an object in plain view is contraband without conducting some further search of the object, meaning if the incriminating character of the object is not immediately apparent, the plain-view doctrine cannot justify the seizure. (People v. Jones, 215 Ill. 2d 261 (2005)).

(1) People v. Wright, 41 Ill. 2d 170 (1968)
(2) People v. Vaglica, 99 Ill. App. 2d 194 (1968)
(3) People v. Moore, 328 Ill. App. 3d 1047 (2002)
(4) People v. Jones, 215 Ill. 2d 261 (2005)

Warrantless Search of Motor Vehicle Driver Based on Odor of Marijuana

August 29, 2013 in 4th Amendment Rights, Marijuana, Uncategorized, Unwarranted Search

Imagine a scenario involving a police officer that detects marijuana odor coming from a motor vehicle, its driver, or both. Is that officer allowed to conduct a warrantless search of the motor vehicle driver? In order to determine whether such a warrantless search is permissible under the Fourth Amendment (which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures), a court must determine whether probable cause existed for the warrantless search.

In People v. Strong, 215 Ill. App. 3d 484 (1991), an officer stopped the defendant driver for a traffic violation and, on approaching the driver, detected what he believed to be the smell of burning cannabis. This court upheld the officer’s apparent search of the defendant driver and his vehicle, for the proposition that a police officer’s detection of controlled substances by smell is a permissible method of establishing probable cause for a search.

Further, In People v. Stout, 106 Ill. 2d 77 (1985), the court held that where a trained and experienced police officer detects the odor of cannabis emanating from a defendant’s vehicle, additional corroboration is not required in order to establish probable cause for a warrantless search of the defendant. Additionally, the court also pointed out that distinctive odors can be persuasive evidence of probable cause and that a police officer’s detection of controlled substances by their smell, in particular, is a permissible method of establishing probable cause.

In conclusion, distinctive marijuana odors coming from a motor vehicle is generally persuasive evidence for a trained and experienced police officer to establish probable cause for a warrantless search of the motor vehicle driver.

(1) People v. Strong, 215 Ill. App. 3d 484 (1991)
(2) People v. Stout, 106 Ill. 2d 77 (1985)