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Fruit of the poisonous tree and drug offenses

California residents who have been charged with a drug crime should be aware of the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. As explains, this doctrine holds that any evidence (fruit) obtained by law enforcement officials by means of an illegal arrest, search or seizure (poisonous tree) cannot be used against defendants in a court of law.

The doctrine has its basis in a person’s unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment guarantees that people, their homes, their papers and their effects cannot be searched or seized by law enforcement officials unless they have a valid warrant that specifically describes what is to be searched and what is allowed to be seized.

Evolution of the doctrine

While the Fourth Amendment specifically mentions homes as places and people and their papers and effects as things that cannot be searched or seized without a warrant, the protection goes much further. The Supreme Court held in the 1886 case of Boyd v. United States that an unreasonable search and seizure also applies to an invasion of someone’s “right of private security, personal liberty and private property.” In other words, law enforcement officials also cannot search such places as a person’s yard, tool shed, car, etc. without a warrant unless he or she gives them permission to do so.

As reported by the Washington Post, the Supreme Court ruled in the 2015 case of Rodriguez v. United States that officers who pull a driver over for an alleged  traffic violation cannot extend the traffic stop to a search for drugs. The only two exceptions are if the driver consents to the search or if the officer sees drugs in plain view when he or she looks in the car windows.

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