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))

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)

When can a police officer make a valid stop of your vehicle?

July 9, 2013 in Legal Information

Under Illinois law, reasonable suspicion is required in order for a police officer to make a valid stop of your vehicle. In order for the police officer to have reasonable suspicion, the officer’s decision must be based on specific and articulate facts which, taken together with rational inferences from the facts as presented, reasonably warrant the stop of your vehicle. A hunch is insufficient. Since reasonable suspicion depends on the facts and circumstances unique to that situation, each case must be decided on its own facts. (1)

For example, a driver’s single, momentary crossing of the center line, without anything more, is a sufficient basis for a traffic stop, and the stop is invalid only if the officer knows additional facts that make it reasonably and articulately apparent that the crossing is legal. (1) In this situation, the stop of the defendant’s vehicle after the officer observed it crossing the center line was supported by reasonable suspicion, and the defendant presented no evidence to suggest that the crossing was legal.

Elsewhere, another officer had reasonable suspicion to justify the stop of a defendant’s vehicle where the defendant was present in a neighborhood that had experienced a rash of garage burglaries. The officer lived in the area and did not recognize the defendant’s truck, while the defendant’s vehicle exited from an alley, known to contain a number of items usually kept in garages, late at night. (2) In this situation, the stop of the defendant’s vehicle was supported by reasonable suspicion, meaning that the facts and rational inferences from those facts warranted the stop of the defendants vehicle.

A police officer may stop a vehicle if he or she reasonably infers from the facts and circumstances unique to that situation that an occupant has committed or is about to commit an offense.

(1) People v. Rush, 319 Ill. App. 3d 34 (2001)
(2) People v. Magallanes, 409 Ill. App. 3d 720 (2011))
(3) People v. Houlihan, 167 Ill. App. 3d 638 (1988)