If California law enforcement officers have arrested you and charged you with allegedly committing a crime, you need to know about the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. Why? Because this longstanding legal doctrine could play a big part in your defense.

The fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine has absolutely nothing to do with either fruit or trees. Rather, as LawTeacher.net explains, it is a metaphor referring to the evidence that officers collect against you and the way they go about gathering it.

Actual meaning

The word “fruit” in the metaphor refers to the actual evidence against you. The words “poisonous tree” refer to illegal and unconstitutional means by which officers gathered that evidence. So the full meaning of the metaphor is that if officers do not collect evidence against you in a constitutional manner, they cannot use the evidence they collect against you in court. In fact, the judge must throw out any such evidence.

Fourth Amendment underpinnings

The fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine has its basis in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which states as follows:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

As you can see, this Amendment does not specify what an “unreasonable” search or seizure is. Nor does any subsequent law. Consequently, judges must determine the reasonableness of law enforcement searches and seizures on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, a warrantless search almost always falls into this category.

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