Fruit of the Poisonous Tree: Can it Help Your Case?

The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree DoctrineIn any criminal investigation and case, evidence is what convicts or acquits you. This is why formal discovery is an important part of any case, be it for the defense or the prosecution.

In the Lone Star State, the Texas Rules of Evidence provides a detailed outline on how evidence should be gathered, handled, and presented to the courts. There are instances, however, when the law is bent or completely ignored when looking for the ‘smoking gun’ or any other crucial piece of evidence. In these instances, evidence against you can be thrown out.

Unreasonable Searches and Seizures

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees your right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

When any part of the Fourth Amendment is violated in obtaining evidence against you, any evidence found because of the illegal search or seizure cannot be used against you, as these are fruit of the poisonous tree.

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

A dependable Houston criminal defense attorney will tell you that the violations on the exclusionary rule of the Fourth Amendment and the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine is a huge help to your case. More importantly, they can get the illegally obtained evidence thrown out.

The doctrine holds that any evidence gathered using illegally obtained information or practices must be excluded from trial. For example, you were illegally interrogated by the police, which then led to the discovery of physical evidence, both the interrogation and the evidence must be thrown out.

The exclusionary rule protects you against the illegal interrogation, and the physical evidence can be excluded because it is the “fruit” of the illegal practices and information.

Is the Fruit Edible?

There are exceptions to the doctrine.  Evidence may not be excluded if:

  1. It was discovered from an independent source — that is, the same, illegally obtained evidence can be obtained from a second, independent, proper source.
  2. Its discovery was inevitable
  3. There is attenuation between the illegal conduct and the discovery of evidence.

If the police beat a confession out of you, for example, your statement and evidence found because of it is inadmissible. If, however, you freely gave a statement albeit without being read your Miranda rights, any evidence found using the information you provided could come in at trial.

This is often why lawyers advise their clients to not talk or to exercise their right to remain silent. In such cases, it doesn’t matter that the statement is inadmissible; the fruit of the poisonous tree is still edible.

Just like most legal doctrines and concepts, the fruit of the poisonous tree is complicated and not set in stone. If you’re facing criminal charges, work with an experienced criminal defense attorney.