Fruit Of The Poisonous Tree

J. Bradley Klepper
Attorney at Law

Apart from providing you with a legal education, law school is good for a few other things. First, you get to learn Latin phrases, like “Caveat Emptor” (“buyer beware”) which you can use in conversation to try and create the impression that you are smarter than the average bear (it normally fails miserably for me – and Yogi). Second, you also get to use cool metaphors like “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” as shorthand for legal doctrines which you can, again, try and use to impress your friends. Never really seems to work though.

For what it’s worth, Fruit of the Poisonous Tree simply means that evidence that was obtained illegally is inadmissible in court. The reasoning is that if the source of the evidence was tainted then anything gained from it is tainted as well. To bring it closer to home, think of evidence found in the cab of a truck as a result of an illegal search.

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree includes almost all evidence arising from any police conduct that violates a defendant’s constitutional rights. For example, say the police conducted an illegal wiretap of your phone and heard your conversation with an alleged drug dealer discussing where he left some drugs for a buyer to pick up. Assuming the police go and pick up the drugs not only would the drugs be inadmissible as evidence so would the recorded statement. Quite simply, because the wiretap was illegal any evidence gained from the recorded call would be inadmissible as well.

Of course, just like any legal doctrine there are exceptions. The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree doctrine is subject to four (4) major exceptions. In other words, the tainted evidence is admissible if:

It was discovered as part of an independent, untainted source; or

It would inevitably have been discovered despite the tainted source; or

The chain of causation between the illegal action and tainted evidence is too attenuated; or

The search warrant was not found to be valid based on probable cause, but was executed in good faith.

For an example of the inevitability exception we can use the wiretapping example discussed above; however, let’s assume that after the drugs were seized the police were told by an informant that had provided reliable information in the past about the location of the drugs and the drug dealer. In this scenario, many courts would allow the drugs into evidence reasoning that the drugs would have inevitably been found by the police without the wiretap.

An example of the attenuation doctrine can be found where police stop a person illegally; however, upon performing a background check discover that the person has several outstanding arrest warrants. Based on these facts there is a good chance that if the officer searches the person any evidence of a crime found on that person would be admissible.

Of course there are more examples and many more nuances we could discuss. But perhaps the main take away is that if you are facing criminal charges you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands the nuances and can take steps to protect your rights.

Brad Klepper, Esq. is President of Interstate Trucker Ltd., a law firm entirely dedicated to legal defense of the nation's commercial drivers. Interstate Trucker represents truck drivers throughout the forty-eight (48) states on both moving and non-moving violations. Brad is also Executive Vice President & General Counsel of Drivers Legal Plan, which allows member drivers access to his firm’s services at greatly discounted rates. Brad spent almost a decade with the largest law firm in Oklahoma where his practice included extensive experience in transactional law, business defense litigation, and intellectual property. In addition, Brad is a licensed architect and serves as General Counsel to the Oklahoma Board of Architects, Landscape Architects and Interior Designers. Brad has dedicated much of his time to DataQs challenges, which are challenges posed to the FMCSA for CSA incidents, to examine data and reports filed by law enforcement.

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