Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine Definition:

Bars the admission of physical evidence and live testimony obtained directly or indirectly through the exploitation of unconstitutional police conduct.

Related Terms: Fourth Amendment, Independent Source Doctrine

The most frequent application of the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine comes in the defence application to exclude evidence sought to be used by the prosecution because the evidence was seized during an unlawful search.

In US v Rey, Justice James Browning explained:

"Evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment may be suppressed, but to trigger the exclusionary rule, police conduct must be sufficiently deliberate that exclusion can meaningfully deter it, and sufficiently culpable that such deterrence is worth the price paid by the justice system. Thus, the exclusionary rule serves to deter deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent conduct, or in some circumstances recurring or systemic negligence, but when police mistakes are the result of negligence, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements, suppression is not automatic and any marginal deterrence" from suppression is often insufficient.

"The exclusionary rule prohibits the introduction of evidence, both tangible and testimonial, that is seized or acquired during an unlawful search.

"Under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, the exclusionary rule bars the admission of physical evidence and live testimony obtained directly or indirectly through the exploitation of unconstitutional police conduct.

"If police conduct unconstitutional searches that acquire information used to obtain a search warrant, then evidence seized during the later search conducted pursuant to warrant would be inadmissible as fruit of the poisonous tree.

"When determining whether evidence is fruit of the poisonous tree, a court is to consider whether the evidence was come at by exploitation of the initial illegality or instead by means sufficiently distinguishable to be purged of the primary taint."

In Wong Sun v US, Justice Brennan of the United States Supreme Court wrote:

"We need not hold that all evidence is fruit of the poisonous tree simply because it would not have come to light but for the illegal actions of the police. Rather, the more apt question in such a case is whether, granting establishment of the primary illegality, the evidence to which instant objection is made has been come at by exploitation of that illegality or instead by means sufficiently distinguishable to be purged of the primary taint."

Notwithstanding the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, the evidence may also yet be admissible if the independent source doctrine applies.

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