Suppressing Evidence Through the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine

Getting charged with any crime is the beginning of an incredibly stressful endeavor. This is especially the case when the charge is for a federal crime, which often carries greater penalties if you end up getting convicted. With so much more at stake, it becomes more important than ever to fight against each and every piece of evidence presented by the team of prosecutors who is trying to take away your liberty. One of the most powerful ways to do this is by suppressing evidence that will be used against you. An effective way to do this is to tap into a legal doctrine known as “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

The Fourth Amendment

4th amendment - Fruit of The Poisonous Tree DoctrineThe Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees your right to live free from searches and seizures that are “unreasonable.” What is an “unreasonable” search or seizure is a topic that can take dozens or maybe even hundreds of blog posts. However, a police search or seizure that is deemed to be unreasonable violates the Fourth Amendment, and whatever evidence that search or seizure obtains can be suppressed and prevented from ever being heard in a court of law.

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Suppresses Subsequently Obtained Evidence

Evidence has a tendency to snowball. Once one piece of evidence has been found, it often leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to several more pieces. In this way, law enforcement is able to put together a case against you that they will use in court to pursue a conviction that can change your life.

However, if that original piece of evidence is discovered as a result of a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights, then all subsequently discovered evidence are tainted with the constitutional violation, as well. Not only can the original piece of evidence be prevented from ever being heard in court by an experienced attorney, but all evidence that was only found because of that original piece of evidence can be suppressed, as well.

This is called the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine. Think of the original piece of evidence as being a like an apple tree. Because it was illegally planted, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, any fruit that comes from it is also illegal, as well.

An Example of Fruit of the Poisonous Tree in Action

An excellent example of how the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine works comes from a narcotics case from 1963, Wong Sun v. U.S. There, police violated the Fourth Amendment by entering someone’s apartment and questioning him about where he had bought heroin. Through the interrogation, they were directed to someone else’s apartment, who said that he had gotten the drugs from yet another person, Wong Sun. When police arrested Wong Sun, his defense attorney successfully argued that the evidence against him – the testimony that he had been the source of the drugs – all came from a Fourth Amendment violation and should be prevented from being heard in court. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which sided with Wong Sun.

How We Can Help

With extensive experience defending clients against criminal charges, the Federal Criminal Law Center is adept at suppressing evidence obtained by federal agents through the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine and other Fourth Amendment defenses. Contact us online for an initial consultation.