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)

Dog-Aided Searches

August 29, 2013 in 4th Amendment Rights, Citizen's Rights, Dog-Aided Search, Legal Information, Privacy Rights, Unwarranted Search

You’ve been pulled over for a valid traffic stop and the officer has requested a police dog to sniff your vehicle for possible illegal substances. What are your rights in this situation? Remember the Fourth Amendment guarantees in part, “the right of the people to be secure.. against unreasonable searches and seizures.. and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.” What does a police dog-sniff mean for your Constitutionally protected rights?

Where there has been a proper stop of a vehicle and a drug-trained dog is alerted, there may be probable cause to search the vehicle for drugs. (People v. Easley, 288 Ill. App. 3d 487 (1997)). “May” being the operative word in this situation, sometimes an officer will have probable cause to search your vehicle and sometimes they will not.

In regards to the search of a vehicle, a dog-sniff conducted during a concededly lawful traffic stop that reveals no information other than the location of a substance that no individual has any right to possess does not violate the Fourth Amendment.  (People v. Harris, 228 Ill. 2d 222 (2008)). In this situation, the police dog sensed an illegal substance in the defendants car, an illegal substance in which the defendant had no right to legally possess thereby giving the officer permission to search the vehicle without violating the defendants Fourth Amendment rights.

In regards to the search of an individual, a dog-sniffing detection of contraband in a stopped vehicle was sufficient to establish probable cause for the police officer to search the passenger for drugs. The dog’s detection of the odor of drugs was not different than if officer himself had smelled odor of drugs, and the officer was not required to have the dog sniff the individual passenger in order to support search. (People v. Neuberger, 355 Ill. Dec. 167 (2011)).

However, an important factor to bear in mind is the length of the stop and time lapse between when the officer requests for a police dog to when the dog actually arrives and the sniff detection occurs.

For example, an officer did not have a reasonable suspicion to prolong the traffic stop of the defendant in order to await arrival of K-9 unit, though the officer noticed that defendant’s vehicle smelled of air freshener and that defendant was nervous, where the bulk of the factors supporting the officer’s reasonable suspicion were known early in the stop, the officer only asked for a canine unit after he spent 13 minutes attempting to obtain the defendant’s consent to a search, and after the officer called the unit the dog did not arrive for another 25 minutes. (People v. McQuown, 407 Ill. App. 3d 1138 (2011)).

In another example, a dog-sniff test conducted during a traffic stop for not having a rear registration light was impermissible and occurred after an overly long detention, even though the police officer was writing the traffic ticket when the dog arrived about fifteen minutes after the stop. If the officer had expeditiously issued a ticket or warning, the driver would have left the scene prior to the arrival of the canine unit. In this situation, the officer did not smell marijuana in the vehicle or see any object justifying suspicion of possession of controlled substance, and he lacked specific and articulable facts to warrant an extended detention and the dog-sniff test. (People v. Cox, 202 Ill. 2d 464 (2002)).

In conclusion, an officer may have probable cause to search your vehicle if a trained police dog has been alerted of illegal substances within the vehicle. However, keep in mind that a police officer generally can not detain you for an unreasonable about of time to wait for the arrival of a police dog unless the officer has reasonable suspicion and can point to specific and articulable facts to warrant an extended detention and the dog-sniff test. (Cox, McQuown).

(1) People v. Easley, 288 Ill. App. 3d 487 (1997)
(2) People v. Harris, 228 Ill. 2d 222 (2008)
(3) People v. Neuberger, 355 Ill. Dec. 167 (2011)
(4) People v. Cox, 202 Ill. 2d 464 (2002)

Miranda Warnings

August 29, 2013 in 4th Amendment Rights, Citizen's Rights, Legal Information, Miranda Rights, Miranda Warnings, Privacy Rights

Everyone is at least somewhat familiar with the Miranda Warnings, i.e. “you have the right to remain silent, any statement you make may be used as evidence against you, you the right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or assigned.” But what exactly does this mean and when do your Miranda Rights kick into effect?

Essentially, the Miranda Warnings are very strict rules to ensure the right to counsel during the interrogation phase of a criminal investigation. (1).

Any confession stemming from an officers custodial interrogation of a defendant will NOT be admissible into evidence unless the use of procedural safeguards (Miranda Warnings) have been demonstrated to secure the defendant their constitutional privilege against self-incrimination. Custodial interrogation refers to questioning initiated by an officer after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of their freedom. (1).

While it is possible for defendant to waive these rights, the waiver must be made voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently. In most cases, a valid waiver can not be presumed from silence, however if the defendant indicates in any manner and at any stage of the process that he wishes to consult with an attorney before speaking, there can be no more questioning. (2). In the Finke case – once the defendant responded with “no comment” the officers subsequent questioning were not admissible.)

In conclusion, unless fully effective means are devised to inform the accused person of his right to silence and to ensure a continuous opportunity to exercise it, any incriminating statements an accused might say will NOT be admitted into evidence and used against them.

(1) Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)
(2) People v. Finke, 204 Ill. App. 3d 748 (1990)

Roadblock Stops for Driving Under the Influence

August 29, 2013 in 4th Amendment Rights, DUI, Roadblock

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees in part, “the right of the people to be secure.. against unreasonable searches and seizures.. and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.” In Illinois, a roadblock is not necessarily violative of the Fourth Amendment just because individuals are stopped without probable cause.

The question of whether a roadblock violates the Fourth Amendment is one of reasonableness, and the degree of intrusion into the individuals privacy is balanced against the strength of the public need for the intrusion. Temporary roadblocks to detect those who may be driving under the influence are reasonable and proper so long as the objective and subjective aspects of the intrusion are minimal. (1).

It is proper for the police officer to question the driver briefly, and possibly longer if the circumstances give the officer reasonable suspicion to do so. The officer may ask the driver to produce driving credentials, and the interior of the car may be examined with a flashlight. (1).

In weighing the objective nature of the intrusion by a roadblock, courts consider (a) the length of the stop, (b) the nature of the questioning, and (c) whether a search is conducted. In measuring the level of subjective intrusion produced by a roadblock, courts consider whether (a) the decision to institute the roadblock and to select the site is made by supervisory personnel, (b) the method employed to stop the vehicles is pre-established and systematic, (c) the roadblock is operated in accordance with preexisting guidelines, (d) the official nature of the operation is sufficiently apparent, and it is obvious that the roadblock does not in fact pose a safety risk, and (e) the police’s intent to establish the roadblock is publicized in advance. (2).

In conclusion, a police operated roadblock to check for motor vehicle operators driving under the influence is valid under the Fourth Amendment so long as the discretion of the police officers is circumscribed, the roadblock is established and operated in a safe manner, and the intrusion is minimal. (2).

(1) People v. Bartley, 109 Ill. 2d 273 (1985)
(2) People v. Fullwiley, 304 Ill. App. 3d 44 (1999))

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)

Are school officials, such as teachers or principals, allowed to search students’ belongings while they are on school grounds?

July 9, 2013 in 4th Amendment Rights

Several cases in Illinois suggest that school officials can not freely search a student’s backpack, as this would be an unreasonable search and violation of 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution.  Accordingly, school officials must have reasonable suspicion before being able to search a student. (1) Reasonable suspicion means that the school official must have more than a mere hunch and must identify specific and articulated facts which, when taken with their natural inferences, make intrusion into the students backpack reasonable. (1) Additionally, the school official may conduct as thorough of a search only as required by the immediate circumstances.

Another important aspect to consider is whether the school official is acting under the tip of another. An anonymous tip, suitably corroborated, may provide reasonable suspicion to justify a seizure, so long as the information exhibits some indicia of reliability. (2) In determining whether the substance of a tip, standing alone, may provide reasonable suspicion to justify a search or seizure, courts will consider the detail of the tip, whether the tip established the informant’s basis of knowledge, whether the informant indicated he or she witnessed any criminal activity, and whether the tip accurately predicts future activity of the suspect. (2).

In conclusion, school officials can not freely search students backpacks and belongings while on school grounds unless they have reasonable suspicion to do so, and if acting on the tip of another, the information from the tip must exhibit some indicia of reliability in order to rise to the level of reasonable suspicion and justify the intrusion into a students backpack.

(1) People v. Taylor, 253 Ill.App.3d 768, (1993)
(2) People v. Kline, 355 Ill.App.3d 770, (2005)