If you face criminal charges in Illinois, your life likely has turned upside down. Depending on precisely which charges you face, a conviction could place you at serious risk for having to serve a long prison sentence, plus having to pay substantial fines and court costs.

Obviously, a conviction, or an acquittal, represents the end of what often becomes a long pre-trial period of investigation by law enforcement officers whose job it is to gather evidence against you. This is where the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine can come to your aid.

The metaphor and what it means

Justice Felix Frankfurtur first established the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine in the 1939 U.S. Supreme Court case of Nardone v. United States. But as LawTeacher.net explains, this phrase is a metaphor having to do with the way in which officers gather evidence against you.

The “fruit” part of the metaphor stands for the actual evidence that officers gather. The “poisonous tree” part stands for the way in which they go about gathering it. So what the doctrine means is that should officers gather “fruit” from the “poisonous tree” of unconstitutional methodologies, any such “fruit” gathered must be thrown out of court.

Fourth Amendment

Even though it took the U.S. legal system until 1939 to codify the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, the Founding Fathers foresaw the need for such a doctrine when they wrote the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Per this amendment, you possess the guaranteed right to remain free from government officials who conduct unreasonable searches and seizures. This includes not only seizures of evidence but also seizures of yourself via arrest.

Unfortunately, neither the Amendment nor any subsequent law or court case defines the word “unreasonable.” Consequently, judges must determine unreasonableness on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, warrantless searches and seizures almost always constitute unreasonable ones.

How all this affects you and your criminal prosecution is that if your attorney proves that officers used unconstitutional methods to gather evidence against you, the judge will have to throw that evidence out of court since it cannot be used against you. Therefore, you stand every chance that the prosecutor will drop the charges against you long before your case ever goes to trial.

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