18/11/16 Tainted Evidence

e-legal lesson

In a criminal trial, information that was obtained by illegal means, including evidence that would not have been discovered but for an illegal search or seizure. This evidence is sometimes called “fruit of the poisonous tree,” and is usually not admissible in court.

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
You might know that evidence the cops find during an illegal search of you or your belongings is probably inadmissible in criminal court. You might also know that the prosecution typically can’t use something you’ve said to the police if officers violated your rights in obtaining the statement (for example, by coercing it out of you).
Generally speaking, the prosecution can’t use evidence that comes directly from police illegality—the seized object or the statement. But oftentimes, it also can’t use evidence that derives from the illegality—something the officers discovered as a result of the object or statement. The latter is “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
Fruit of the poisonous tree includes evidence gathered from just about any kind of police conduct that violates a defendant’s constitutional rights. Take an illegal wiretap, for example. Suppose the police begin to listen in on and record the statements of suspected drug dealers without first getting a warrant. One of the dealers says that he left some cocaine in an abandoned warehouse so that his buyer could pick it up. The police go to the building and find the drugs. Not only is the illegally recorded statement (the poisonous tree) inadmissible, so too are the drugs the officers found (the fruit of that tree).
In our next e-Legal Lesson, we’ll explore some “antidotes”.