‘Fruit of the Poisonous Tree’ and Getting Your Statements to Police Thrown Out in a Florida Case

In a 2001 episode of a highly popular courtroom drama, a criminal suspect is very excited. “Y’all ain’t got no probable cause… That’s poison from the fruit tree!” Garbled wording aside, the suspect was onto something… or he might have been had he not been on parole and subject to warrantless searches. While you may not know all the ins and outs of the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine and its role in suppressing potentially incriminating evidence, your experienced Tampa Bay criminal defense lawyer has an in-depth knowledge of this rule and more, which is why it is so important to obtain the right legal counsel when you are facing charges or are under suspicion.

The “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine is an element of the exclusionary rule of evidence. It bars the use of proof that the police obtained via a search, seizure, or interrogation that violated your constitutional rights, such as the right to counsel or the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

In the recent sex crimes case of one Sarasota County man, the usefulness of the “fruit of the poisonous tree” rule was one the important lessons readers can learn. The other — as often is the case — is: avoid talking to the police without your attorney present.

In the summer of 2019, Sarasota County detectives received a tip about photographic images on a Pinterest account, which they traced to an IP address linked to J.C.’s home. Using that information, the police obtained a search warrant for the property.

At the property, the police encountered J.C. and “persuaded [him] to speak with them.” Although the police timely informed the man of his Miranda rights, the man did not invoke his right to counsel. Instead, he gave the police not one… not two… but four statements and admissions.

J.C. had made a mistake by talking to the police without counsel present, but he later made the wise choice to retain an attorney. That decision was particularly beneficial because the search warrant the police used in J.C.’s case was defective. J.C.’s attorney argued — and the trial judge agreed — that the statements the police gave in seeking to establish probable cause “were so conclusory as to be insufficient.”

That meant that the search was illegal and, under the “fruit of the poisonous tree” rule, J.C.’s statements potentially were subject to exclusion, as well. For a statement to be tainted by an illegal search (and therefore suppressed,) the police must have induced that statement using something obtained in the search. Winning this kind of suppression motion means that you must provide the court with some sort of persuasive, compelling “link” between the evidence the police illegally obtained and the statement you’re seeking to get thrown out.

Under that standard, the first statement couldn’t have been the fruit of the illegal search because J.C. gave it before the police finished their search. During that round of questioning, the police used nothing from that search. The other three statements, however, were the fruit of the illegal search.

At the man’s retrial, the state will only be able to use that first statement against J.C. Of course, if he had promptly invoked his rights and retained counsel, the state likely wouldn’t even have that and the accused man would be in an even stronger defense position.

The best time to retain legal counsel is not after your arrest, after your arraignment, after your bond hearing, or right before trial. The best time to retain counsel is the moment the police start questioning you. The experienced Tampa Bay criminal defense attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. can guide you through the process, helping to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your free initial consultation.

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