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Author Topic: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree  (Read 1073 times)

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Offline InkiduTopic starter

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So, I have a bit of a question I can't quite get a clear Google answer too because the questions I keep putting in are too specific, but I'm curious:

Illegal Search and Seizure and Fruit of the Poisonous Tree are doctrines and laws that govern civil law enforcement agencies in the US (and other parts of the world) that govern the limitation and scope of evidence collection and the searching of private property. However, a non-police entity--as my understanding goes--is not governed by these limitations.

For example (and this is example only): I am not a police officer, I do not work for any police department in any law-enforcement capacity. I see my neighbor across the street murder his or her spouse and I break into his house while he's at work and put the kitchen knife with his or her fingerprints and the souse's blood in a Ziploc bag and otherwise maintain the integrity of the evidence (don't get my fingerprints on it) and take it to the police station and say, "This is what my neighbor used to kill his or her spouse." The evidence would be (if the police had obtained it) damning in normal search and seizure operations, but as a civilian, for me, it would simply be burglary wouldn't it? I--as someone not associated with the police or law enforcement--would not be violating any doctrine of evidence gathering.

Offline Beguile's Mistress

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #1 on: October 10, 2014, 06:46:29 PM »
Removing evidence from the scene of a crime compromises it.  Chain of evidence needs to be protected and if you interfere with that the weapon could be ruled invalid.

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #2 on: October 10, 2014, 07:06:23 PM »
*nods*  A good defense attorney would suggest that you had used gloves, taken a knife that you had observed him/her using, and then proceeded to stab the spouse during the break-in.

A better option would be to call the cops while the neighbor is at work, and say that either you witnessed the murder, or request a 'wellness check' of the spouse.  (Hopefully, this is not occurring while you are convalescing in your apartment with a broken leg and a pair of binoculars. [/film geek])

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #3 on: October 10, 2014, 07:17:57 PM »
*snerks*

The neighbor isn't a Raymond Burr look alike by any chance is he? 

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #4 on: October 10, 2014, 07:49:32 PM »
I don't understand why a bystander would want to do that.  Like Oniya said, simply inform the police department that you witnessed a murder, and your witness testimony is all that is needed to establish probable cause for a police search warrant (in most cases - unless the witness is deemed unreliable).  Just like if you see illegal content on someone's computer, you'd tell the police, and that is enough to get a search warrant.

In addition, 4th amendment rights have limitations:  If the police were directly witnessing a murder (a.k.a. someone's life or health is in danger), they can arrest the individual even on private property and search that location as part of that investigation/pursuit without a warrant on the spot.  In addition, if something of an illegal nature is in plain sight, they can search the property.

Offline InkiduTopic starter

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #5 on: October 11, 2014, 06:24:56 AM »
I know all that. The answer I need is whether or not it is invalid because non-police persons are held up to either or both of Illegal Search and Seizure or Fruit of the Poisonous Tree, and yes while the above example is stupid it's to illustrate a situation.

The example isn't really what's important, I was looking for yeas and nays. I think those two doctrine only cover police procedure not what non-police persons do, but I couldn't get a clear answer from google. :|

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #6 on: October 11, 2014, 08:37:11 AM »
          Found a couple things on Search and Seizure.  It sounds evidence gathered by a civilian may be considered in court, provided the civilian is not deemed to have been acting as an agent of the police.  And if there is burglary or any other crime involved, the gathering civilian could be prosecuted for that.

          I haven't looked into Fruit of the Poisonous Tree yet.   

In "Point of View," a periodical published by the Alameda Country District Attorney's Office (California), 2007 issue:

Quote
Civilians sometimes discover evidence of a crime and turn it over to officers. Usually
itís a weapon, drugs, stolen property, or some type of document. But whatever it is,
officers seldom need to worry about how the civilian located it or whether it will
be suppressed. Thatís because, even if was acquired by means of an illegal search, it
cannot ordinarily be suppressed unless it was obtained by a sworn officer or some other
government employee.2
 
The main reason the law gives civilians a pass is that the threat of suppression would
seldom deter them from looking through other peopleís property. Moreover, most of them
donít know the rules of search and seizure, they have no reason to learn them, and they
are not disciplined when they violate them. Officers, on the other hand, arenít so lucky.

From Lawfirms.com :

Quote
In essence, the fourth amendment seeks to protect the privacy rights of private citizens from government officials.  The terms illegal search and seizure only apply to law enforcement or government officials, and in many instances it may be illegal, other private citizens, such as your landlord, employer, or even private security personnel have free range in invading your privacy, if they are prepared to accept any criminal penalties applicable to their actions.

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #7 on: October 11, 2014, 09:07:09 AM »
         As I gather, the "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree" is a kind of qualification to overall Search and Seizure rules under the Fourth Amendment. 

        So if some evidence is not excluded under Search and Seizure rules (often referred to, I think, as the Exclusionary Rule), then I do not see how Fruit of the Poisonous Tree could be relevant.  If I understand correctly, only things that are excluded are included in the Fruit basket clause.

         In short:  Again, the restrictions only apply to cases that involve action or influence by any agents of the law (formally, any government agents).


From Legalupdateonline.com :

Quote
Remedy for Violations; The "Exclusionary Rule:"  Warrantless searches, performed without probable cause and without an exception to the warrant requirement (or even when a warrant is used, but where the warrant is later determined to be legally defective), subjects any recovered evidence to exclusion from being used as evidence in court.  (Weeks v. United States (1914) 232 U.S. 383 [58 L.Ed. 652].) 

and (same page, with my bold added)
Quote
The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
Fruit of the Poisonous Tree:  The evidence that is suppressed is limited to the direct products of the constitutional violation; i.e., the "fruit of the poisonous tree."  (Wong Sun v. United States (1963) 371 U.S. 471 [9 L.Ed.2nd 441].)

"Evidence obtained by such illegal action of the police is Ďfruit of the poisonous tree,' warranting application of the exclusionary rule if, Ďgranting establishment of the primary illegality, the evidence to which instant objection is made has been come at by exploitation of the illegality or instead by means sufficiently distinguishable to be purged of the primary taint.'" (United States v. Crawford (9th Cir. 2004) 372 F.3rd 1048, 1054, quoting Brown v. Illinois (1975) 422 U.S. 590, at p. 599 [45 L.Ed.2nd 416].)

From the legal section of thefreedictionary.com (with my bold):

Quote

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
The principle that prohibits the use of secondary evidence in trial that was culled directly from primary evidence derived from an illegal Search and Seizure.

The "fruit of the poisonous tree" doctrine is an offspring of the Exclusionary Rule. The exclusionary rule mandates that evidence obtained from an illegal arrest, unreasonable search, or coercive interrogation must be excluded from trial. Under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, evidence is also excluded from trial if it was gained through evidence uncovered in an illegal arrest, unreasonable search, or coercive interrogation. Like the exclusionary rule, the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine was established primarily to deter law enforcement from violating rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The name fruit of the poisonous tree is thus a metaphor: the poisonous tree is evidence seized in an illegal arrest, search, or interrogation by law enforcement. The fruit of this poisonous tree is evidence later discovered because of knowledge gained from the first illegal search, arrest, or interrogation. The poisonous tree and the fruit are both excluded from a criminal trial.

 
« Last Edit: October 11, 2014, 09:14:35 AM by kylie »

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #8 on: October 11, 2014, 09:40:30 AM »
Without probably cause police are required to obtain a search warrant before entering a person's domicile, vehicle or any other personal space.  Laws are changing regarding mobile devices as well and a search warrant may be required to view information stored in a person's cell phone.

Civilians can be charged with interfering in or hindering a police investigation if you enter a home or touch what might be evidence in a crime.  Not only that but touching a weapon you believe may have been used to commit a crime puts you in jeopardy of being accused of the crime yourself along with destroying any chance the evidence can be used in a trial to convict the real criminal.  Police are bound by certain rules because they are sworn officers of the law and civilians are bound by common sense. 

You really should talk to a criminal attorney or police personnel to get the proper information to answer your questions.  I know what I know because I know several police officers and two District Attorneys.

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #9 on: October 11, 2014, 09:43:09 AM »
I think 'tampering with a crime scene' might also be a thing.

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #10 on: October 11, 2014, 11:02:54 AM »
That can actually get you an "accessory after the fact" charge in some places and jail time approaching the sentence meted out to the criminal.

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #11 on: October 11, 2014, 12:29:25 PM »
I suppose this stern attitude (in the US) to some private person (a neighbour, a plumber or cleaning lady calling in for a day's work or something, noticing an object that they realize might incriminate the guy living in the house etc) taking care of that object and handing it to the police, that route making the evidence invalid even if it does in fact provide something forensically important, only applies when the object was gathered on the suspect person's property, in their house, their garden, their car etc? The point about an attendant charge for burglary is easy to see (and would apply in many countries), but it sounds strange if even the folllowing example should be true:

My neighbour says his wife is with her aunt in another town for a while. A week later he says she has fallen ill and has gone to an unspecified health spa with auntie and will remain there for a while - indefinitely. Two days later, near a shopping mall on the outskirts of town, I notice him walking around with a sports bag with something bulky in it. I silently follow him at a distance and see him dropping the bag in a massive iron waste container (which will be driven to the waste recycling plant and emptied every few days). Five minutes after he has left, I walk up to the container, climb up on a crate and look in. The container is half full, but I manage to spot the bag, reach down and haul it out using gloves. In my car I open it, still with gloves on, and it turns out to contain some empty packages of strong sleeping pills and ladies' clothes smeared with darkened blood and grime. I promptly take the bag to the police, explain how I got hold of it, who dropped it and why I think it's important. They inform me it might be unusable/inadmissible as evidence in a police inquiry or a trial, because it was retrieved and handed in by me, not by a policeman, and furthermore I might have planted those incriminating objects into the bag, who knows? So even if it should turn out that it *is* his wife's blood on the clothing and both the bag and the clothing have my neighbour's fingerprints and a few traces of his hair clearly on them, it could be argued in a trial that I have helped my neighbour or even killed someone myself: his wife or somebody else.

Or the police saying: this isn't enough to motivate a search warrant at his home or a query for his wife, though it could have been if it had been a cop taking care of the bag just like you did.

This sounds bizarre as a ready-made response to a neighbour or somebody else who has been in touch with person X secretly getting hold of something well away from X's home and property - something they think X has been handling during a crime - and offering it to the police.
« Last Edit: October 12, 2014, 07:30:14 AM by gaggedLouise »

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #12 on: October 11, 2014, 12:56:56 PM »
Your testimony regarding sighting your neighbor with the bag and his disposal of it is one aspect of the case.  Confirming any suspicions you might have or satisfying your curiosity is another.  Touching the bag and it's constents and inadvertently tampering with evidence is a third point to be examines.

Spotting your neighbor and reporting the bag along with your suspicions is a safe move for you and the case.  Your neighbor's defense might still argue your involvement with the evidence but since you didn't touch it there would be no logical way to incriminate you.  By removing the bag, even with gloves, and opening and examining the contents you still put yourself in jeopardy from any sort of contact DNA or witnesses to your actions.

Evidence gathered by police must be a pristine as possible and the chain of evidence cannot be broken.  It must go directly from the suspect to the authorities.  You touched it.  You interfered with it.  You tainted it.

The police don't know you, they will not trust your and they must hold you as a suspect in that case.  If you hadn't touched the bag you would still be a material witness but not a suspect.  If I'm the defense attorney I'm going to throw you under the bus, into the grinder and hold you up as the perpetrator trying to throw suspicion onto your neighbor.  I'm going to find every way I can to connect you to the wife ad put you in place to do the deed and should the prosecution succeed in bringing the neighbor to trial with incontrovertible evidence I'm going to break my back taking you down with him and positioning you as the author of the crime with the husband as an involuntary accomplice.

The prosecution has no way to prove you weren't part of the murder, the actual murderer or that you didn't plant the evidence found in the bag.  How does anyone know that even if the husband murdered his wife you didn't break into his house, steal the knife, bloody clothes and medicines along with the bag and plant them in the trash bin?

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #13 on: October 11, 2014, 02:00:31 PM »
Yep, but in my example the bag might become impossible to retrieve after just a day or two, because by then the container may have been taken to the dump ground and all of its contents lost. There is no way I could know when the next clearing would happen, only that it's likely to happen soon, and you can definitely not trust, as a rule of thumb, that the police would send a man out to dive into the container and get a supposed bag out just because someone's called in and told them she saw a neighbour dropping the bag into that place and she suspects he was trying to do away with something after killing or maiming his wife. That would not be top priority.

There is an old punchline that used to be run by the police around here (in Scandinavia): "Common people as a group are a great detective, they never sleep". That was a bit fanciful of course, but it states very clearly that the police would welcome people keeping their eyes open and handing in stuff like unattended suitcases in trains, rods, knives and guns that might prove to be a likely murder weapon in a specific case, bullet slugs near a murder scene and so on.
« Last Edit: October 11, 2014, 02:02:14 PM by gaggedLouise »

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #14 on: October 11, 2014, 02:13:59 PM »
        Without knowing quite what the OP wants to do with this information, this is starting to go off all over the place.  It's interesting enough indeed...  But still true. 

        Personally, I think it sounds like great fodder for a blackmail story.  "Do as I say, or I have something you have been looking for.  We both know what the police could do with it, don't we now."  And if you know it won't be immediately ruled out just because a civilian lifted and turned in the evidence, it's much easier to swing that sort of dramatization.   ;)

        It's creepy in a way too...  The police rely on neighbors commonly watching each either (and often viewing inside each other's property).  That isn't really news, but now given they might sometimes be able to make use of stolen evidence in court...  There could also be situations where say, if the evidence were something not easily disrupted by third party handling -- perhaps say, certain political documents that are not easily forged where the information within speaks much to its ownership and to some crime?  Wouldn't it be tempting for someone from an opposing political camp who could guess who had those documents, to do or arrange a break-in?  There would be some real criminal law involved, but oh the potential to foment scandal when it hit the press.  Or at least to complicate life for some of one's opponents during the election.  That's just one other way it can play out creepy.
« Last Edit: October 11, 2014, 02:16:12 PM by kylie »

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #15 on: October 11, 2014, 02:27:46 PM »
There could also be situations where say, if the evidence were something not easily disrupted by third party handling -- perhaps say, certain political documents that are not easily forged where the information within speaks much to its ownership and to some crime?  Wouldn't it be tempting for someone from an opposing political camp who could guess who had those documents, to do or arrange a break-in?  There would be some real criminal law involved, but oh the potential to foment scandal when it hit the press.  Or at least to complicate life for some of one's opponents during the election.  That's just one other way it can play out creepy.

Sounds familiar...  ;)

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #16 on: October 11, 2014, 02:48:45 PM »
There is an old punchline that used to be run by the police around here (in Scandinavia): "Common people as a group are a great detective, they never sleep". That was a bit fanciful of course, but it states very clearly that the police would welcome people keeping their eyes open and handing in stuff like unattended suitcases in trains, rods, knives and guns that might prove to be a likely murder weapon in a specific case, bullet slugs near a murder scene and so on.
On the other hand, as security experts say, "If you depend on amateurs for security, you get amateurish security". Criminal prosecution cases are and should be fragile things; civilians involving themselves will accidentally destroy them.

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #17 on: October 11, 2014, 06:20:35 PM »
On the other hand, as security experts say, "If you depend on amateurs for security, you get amateurish security". Criminal prosecution cases are and should be fragile things; civilians involving themselves will accidentally destroy them.

I'd agree in a way, but I think there's a tug-of-war going on here that's more or less built into the function of the police and the prosecution in any democratic state. On one hand, the police are not supposed to farm out their work to amateurs (ordinary citizens) of course, but on the other hand they cannot, and should not, communicate to the public "we don't *want* your cooperation, you are overall too dumb to contribute anything to our work except tax money, unless we deliberately ask one of you for something very specific".

Likewise, courts have to steer some sort of course between being so haughty towards ordinary citizens - don't come here, you just don't understand how the law works and what happens in a courtroom - that they'd alienate most people and come across as a club of legal mandarins - and on the other hand letting themselves be swayed so much by the plaintiffs in violent and scandalous cases that the court becomes an arena for exacting private revenge and eternal condemnation under the veil of the law.

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #18 on: October 11, 2014, 06:49:15 PM »
In the US, we have something called 'Neighborhood Watch', which basically lets the police use the ever-present civilian as an extra set of eyes.  Standard procedure is to call the 'real cops' if you see something suspicious, not to engage the perp or try to collect anything. 

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #19 on: October 11, 2014, 07:22:56 PM »
In the US, we have something called 'Neighborhood Watch', which basically lets the police use the ever-present civilian as an extra set of eyes.  Standard procedure is to call the 'real cops' if you see something suspicious, not to engage the perp or try to collect anything.

Yup, but it does presuppose that you have a large number of cops avaliable effectively 24/7, so that there's always people around to send in on short notice to look into a suspected crime or "strange occurrence" - both in Inkidu's original example and in mine, it's not obvious at the point of retrieval that there has been any kind of violent crime or murder. In Inkidu's example, he thinks he witnessed the murder but the police don't know anything yet; in my example, I only suspect there is something odd going on with the guy's wife when I see him walking around with that bag; neither one would sound very urgent to a busy police switchboard). My impression is that the police force in the U.S. often is heavy on personnel, at least in big cities, and they're trained to act fast, but perhaps that's just a misconception from watching tv cop shows.  8-) If you've got five cops who are available to send outside of the police station on a weekend in a district of many thousand square miles, riding in cars - which could happen in some locations in Europe, and likely in some places in America too - then it's an entirely different kind of game.
« Last Edit: October 11, 2014, 07:27:56 PM by gaggedLouise »

Offline InkiduTopic starter

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #20 on: October 11, 2014, 07:32:06 PM »
I think I got my answer.

Offline TaintedAndDelish

Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #21 on: October 17, 2014, 04:02:10 AM »

I assume this poisonous tree thing does not apply to certain "three letter" government agencies who slurp up information willy-nilly, and then cherry pick select whatever information they feel might be helpful to them.

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #22 on: October 17, 2014, 06:46:55 AM »
Next mod through please lock.

I don't want to start a PRaoC conversation, especially when I've got my answer.

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Re: U.S. Law Question Search and Seizure/Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
« Reply #23 on: October 17, 2014, 06:53:36 AM »
Locking topic at OP's request.