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What is the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine?

If you are a Kentucky resident charged with a crime, you may have heard about the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine and are wondering if it applies to your case and if it might affect your case in any way. The answers are yes and maybe.

LawTeacher.net explains that the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine was first hinted at in the 1886 U.S. Supreme Court case of Boyd v. United States. The actual phrase, however, was not coined until Justice Felix Frankfurter did so in the 1939 U.S. Supreme Court case of Nardone v. United States.

What the metaphor means

Regardless of the fact that it took over 50 years for the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine to have a name, its meaning and intent had long been clear. The Fourth Amendment gives American citizens a constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. What this means to you and all other criminal defendants is that any evidence; i.e., “fruit,” that law enforcement officials obtain by means of an unreasonable search and seizure; i.e., “the poisonous tree,” is not admissible in court and cannot be used against you.

This, of course, brings up the question of what constitutes an “unreasonable” search and/or seizure. While specific answers are provided on a case-by-case basis, a warrantless search or seizure definitely is unreasonable and therefore unconstitutional.

You should also remember that “seizure” does not apply only to pieces of your property, such as your car, your documents, or even your illegal property such as drugs. Seizure also applies to your body. In other words, law enforcement officials cannot search your home or car without a warrant, nor can they arrest you without one. If they do, any evidence they seize, be it physical property or statements you make to them, will not be admissible during your trial and therefore cannot and will not be used to convict you.

So does the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine affect your case? That depends on how law enforcement officers go about collecting their evidence against you. This information is only intended to educate and should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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