Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Independent Source Doctrine Definition:

(USA) Evidence initially discovered during an unlawful search, but later obtained independently through activities untainted by the illegality, may be admitted into evidence

Related Terms: Fourth Amendment, Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine

Also known as the independent source exception or the independent source rule.

Justice James Browning of the United States District Court of New Mexico used Biblical language to illustrate the doctrine: "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. Under the independent-source doctrine, evidence that is obtained based upon information unrelated to an unlawful search is not fruit of the poisonous tree. Evidence therefore need not be excluded under the fruits-of-the-poisonous-tree doctrine if there is an independent source for discovery of the challenged evidence."

In US v Khabeer, Justice Steven Colloton of the United States Court of Appeals reviewed the admissibility of evidence collected by Little Rock Officer Scott Miller:

"The Fourth Amendment generally prohibits police from entering a home without a warrant unless the circumstances fit an established exception to the warrant requirement. The government does not defend the constitutionality of Miller's entry and his observations in the home. The government claims, however, that because Miller's information was not used in the application for a search warrant, the independent source doctrine permits the admission of evidence later seized from the home, despite an earlier unlawful search by Miller.

"The independent source doctrine provides that evidence initially discovered during an unlawful search, but later obtained independently through activities untainted by the illegality, may be admitted into evidence.

"This rule is rooted in the view that the interest of society in deterring unlawful police conduct and the public interest in having juries receive all probative evidence of a crime are properly balanced by putting the police in the same, not a worse, position that they would have been in if no police error or misconduct had occurred. To establish that the independent source doctrine applies to evidence seized pursuant to a warrant obtained after an unlawful entry to a home, the government must show both (1) that the decision to seek the warrant was independent of the unlawful entry—i.e., that police would have sought the warrant even if the initial entry had not occurred—and (2) that the information obtained through the unlawful entry did not affect the magistrate's decision to issue the warrant."

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