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What is the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine?

If you face criminal charges in Connecticut, you should familiarize yourself with the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. Why? Because this long held legal doctrine may come into play in your case and become the reason why the prosecutor may dismiss the charges against you.

LawTeacher.net explains that back in 1939, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurtur coined the term “fruit of the poisonous tree” when writing for the majority in the landmark case of Nardone v. United.

A metaphor with crucial meaning

As you might expect, “fruit of the poisonous tree” represents a metaphor having nothing to do with either fruit or trees. Rather, this doctrine stands for the proposition that law enforcement officers must conduct their evidence gathering activities in a legal and constitutional manner. Should they fail to do so, they cannot use the evidence, i.e., “fruit,” they unconstitutionally gathered, i.e., the “poisonous tree,” against the defendant in a criminal prosecution. In fact, the judge must throw out this evidence.

Fourth Amendment

If you review your American history, you will discover that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees your right not to become the victim of an unreasonable search and seizure. This constitutional prohibition forms the underlying basis for the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine.

Unfortunately, the Fourth Amendment does not contain the definition of an unreasonable search or seizure. Nor has any case law since the founding of this nation declared a one-size-fits-all definition. Instead, judges have been left to determine what is unreasonable on a case-by-case basis. One thing, however, has become abundantly clear: a warrantless search or seizure almost always is an unconstitutional and illegal one. One might say that a warrantless search represents the classic poisonous tree.

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

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