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What is fruit of the poisonous tree?

On Behalf of | Jun 1, 2018 | Criminal Defense |

If you face any type of criminal charge(s) in Mississippi, you should know about the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine because it may advantageously affect your case when you go to trial. As LawTeacher.net explains, the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine has been part of American criminal law for over a century. The U.S. Supreme Court first mentioned the concept back in 1886 in the case of Boyd v. United States. Not until 53 years later, however, did Justice Felix Frankfurter actually coin the phrase in another U.S. Supreme Court case, Nardone v. United States.

This doctrine flows from your Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement officers and other governmental officials. The phrase “fruit of the poisonous tree” is a metaphor. The “fruit” part refers to evidence that officers gather against you; the “poisonous tree” part refers to the way in which they go about gathering that evidence. If they seize the “fruit” during an unreasonable search, that search is the “poisonous tree” from which they cannot benefit. In other words, the evidence cannot be used against you in a court of law.

What constitutes “unreasonable?”

While the Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, it does not define what is unreasonable. Nor is there a hard and fast definition anywhere else that applies to all situations. Instead, unreasonability is fact-based with regard to each criminal case in which it arises. On the other hand, if the officers searched your home or car without a valid warrant, it is almost a sure thing that whatever they found and seized is useless to them. Why? Because the judge will throw all such evidence out of court since the search violated your constitutional rights.

Keep in mind that the word “seizure” includes not only your possessions, but also your body. Consequently, if officers arrest you without a warrant to do so, your arrest itself may be unconstitutional depending on the precise circumstances. In this situation, your arrest is the “poisonous tree,” and anything the officers find and seize thereafter is “fruit” that cannot be used against you.

This is general information only and not intended to provide legal advice.