Fruit of the Poisonous Tree in Action
Perhaps the best way to understand how the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine works is to look at some examples. There's really no limit to the scenarios in which the doctrine may apply, but consider:
Example 1: A police officer stops a car for speeding. The driver hasn't been drinking or using any type of drugs, and she's given the officer no reason to believe that she's driving while drunk or impaired. The officer asks for consent to search the trunk of the car, but the driver refuses to let him. The officer then orders her out of the car and he searches the inside of the car and the trunk. He finds marijuana in the trunk, and he arrests the driver for drug possession.
The officer then goes to a magistrate and gets a warrant for the driver's home because he believes she's selling marijuana. The magistrate gives him the warrant because he thinks the officer has enough evidence that the driver is committing a crime and that her house contains evidence of the crime. The officer searches the home and finds more marijuana along with other illegal narcotics and illegal firearms. The driver is then charged with a gun-related crime on top of the drug possession charge.
Under the exclusionary rule, the marijuana found in the car can't be used against the driver because the search of the car was illegal. All the other evidence found in the driver's home can't be used against her because it's fruit of the poisonous tree - it was discovered through evidence found through an illegal search.
Example 2: The police arrest someone who's suspected of committing an armed bank robbery. The police begin questioning or "interrogating" the suspect, and they make him aware of his Miranda rights, including his right to have an attorney present during the questioning. The suspect immediately tells the police that he wants an attorney, but the police continue the interrogation. After a few hours, the suspect confesses to the crime and tells them that the money stolen from the bank is hidden in his home. The police get a warrant, search the home, and along with the money, they find dozens of pieces of stolen goods and a large quantity of cocaine. The suspect is then charged with theft and drug trafficking on top of the armed robbery charge.
Under the exclusionary rule, the suspect's confession to armed robbery can't be used because it was obtained though an illegal interrogation. The money from the bank, as well as the other stolen goods and cocaine found in his home, can't be used against him either because they're all fruits of the illegal interrogation, that is, the poisonous tree.
Questions for Your Attorney
- How exactly do I go about having evidence suppressed if I think it was obtained illegally?
- A judge refused to suppress evidence that my court-appointed attorney argued was fruit of the poisonous tree. I was convicted. Can I appeal the judge's decision not to exclude the evidence? What if I think my attorney made a mistake?
- Once we get the evidence excluded the prosecution will have to drop the case against me, right?