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))