California law enforcement does not always act appropriately when gathering evidence. The question is whether evidence that is improperly gathered can be introduced into court. This questioned is governed by a legal theory called the “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” doctrine.
The general rule is that improperly obtained evidence cannot be used in a criminal court proceeding against a defendant. This comes from the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects against illegal search and seizure. When law enforcement violates this with an illegal search, the benefits that they reap from it cannot be used against a defendant.
However, the application of this doctrine is not always straightforward and apparent. Prosecutors may try to argue why any one of a number of different exceptions applies that would allow the evidence to still be introduced if there was an illegal search. One exception is when the police illegally seize evidence that would have inevitably been discovered by other means at another time. This can occur when evidence is in plain sight. Another exception is when the link between the illegal search and the seized evidence is attenuated. Finally, there is an independent evidence exception when law enforcement first finds something illegally but then later finds it legally. Each one of these exceptions requires an analysis of the facts and circumstances performed by the judge.
When a person has been charged with a crime, they may need a criminal defense attorney to ensure that their legal rights are protected. An attorney might file a motion in court to exclude any evidence that was illegally obtained and may then argue the motion at a hearing in front of the judge. Criminal defense attorneys work to ensure that law enforcement does not act in an illegal manner that would infringe upon a defendant’s constitutional rights.