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Supreme Court: Suppressing fruit since 1920
April 13, 2011 5:16 AM   Subscribe

Fruit of the poisonous tree is a legal term used to describe illegally gained evidence. The logic of the terminology is that if the source of the evidence is tainted, then anything gained from it is as well.

For the uninitiated, such terms used as described make for odd introductions to supreme court arguments (PDF warning)

MS. SCHWARZ:...Instead of suppressing the poisonous fruit of the illegal car stop, the DMV records, the New York Court of Appeals chose to create a new categorical rule that prevents application of the exclusionary rule whenever the police act in violation of Prouse.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Was -- was -- was the poisonous fruit the DMV records, or was the poisonous fruit the fact that this person who is contained in the records was the one driving the car?
posted by AndrewKemendo (26 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Do we have evidence that the fruit of a poisonous tree is also poisonous?
posted by infini at 5:26 AM on April 13, 2011


Yes, but don’t ask how we got it.
posted by him at 5:31 AM on April 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


Do we have evidence that the fruit of a poisonous tree is also poisonous?

Actually, there are quite a few counterexamples here in a handy wood toxicity chart.
posted by Stoatfarm at 5:37 AM on April 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


...So the court of appeals is focusing on the fact that all that was elicited here is the name of the defendant, and that's appropriate. Asking a name is fundamental to any encounter between police and citizens, and that's because the officer -­

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: You're suggesting that it's okay for the police to walk up to any citizen, anywhere, and say, you're under arrest until you give me your name?

MS. HALLIGAN: Absolutely not, Your Honor.

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Well, there's --- there's been no doubt here that it was a stop without suspicion. That's been presumed. So how is that different from what I just asked you -­

MS. HALLIGAN: Because -­

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: That they took a person randomly, detained them without any suspicion, and said give me your name. Are you suggesting that that's okay?

MS. HALLIGAN: No, I'm not. The legality of the stop here has not been adjudicated. We are presuming that the police acted illegally.

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: I am presuming. I know that there's counter-arguments to that.


I like this. The right made a big deal out of the statement by Sotomayor that "that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life."

It seems, at least in this exchange, that those life experiences are being appropriately applied to the benefit of all.
posted by three blind mice at 5:55 AM on April 13, 2011 [23 favorites]


The same doctrine provides a justification for indefinite detention of enemy combatants.

Accused confessed to terrorism under torture.
Torture is illegal, any confession or evidence obtained is a fruit of the poisonous tree.
Therefore, we cannot prosecute the accused, as our evidence is tainted.
But we cannot risk letting him go, he is a confessed terrorist.
We must detain him forever.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:00 AM on April 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


properly suppressible fruit

Driving While Fruity
posted by chavenet at 6:09 AM on April 13, 2011


JUSTICE SCALIA: I would agree with you on that fruit.
posted by electroboy at 6:22 AM on April 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


This just gets more bizarre as you read on:

JUSTICE SCALIA: So -- so what if the fruit of the poisonous tree is added to, other poisonous fruit -- I mean, evidence also illegally obtained from another source ...
MS. SCHWARZ: Well, Justice Scalia, that is also a poisonous combination. It's a poisonous fruit salad.
JUSTICE ALITO: And if there is yoghurt? I mean, legal yoghurt, or some cream? Are you saying --
MS. SCHWARZ: No, there is no --
JUSTICE ALITO: -- because I find that yoghurt can be pretty good for digestion. *burp* Excuse me.
MS. SCHWARZ: Yes, I see, your Honor. I think -- I believe that under those circumstances it would be entirely proper to eat the yoghurt, but the fruit cannot be eaten. But the yoghurt could easily be contaminated, you would have to -- may it please the court, the court would have to use two spoons, there.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: You're suggesting that it's okay for that non-poisonous yoghurt to be led, if we have two spoons?
MS. SCHWARZ: Yes, your Honor. In Delaware v. Prouse the court used a spork.
JUSTICE ALITO: I don't know if a spork is even constitutional.
JUSTICE SCALIA: Wait, what is that? Was he that guy on Star Trek?
MS. SCHWARZ: No -- I think that was Spock. A Vulcan, not under this court's jurisdiction.
JUSTICE ALITO: Man, am I hungry.
JUSTICE SCALIA: Are there ANY aliens in the court today? I just -- I just want to know what someone from another planet would think of all this. What cutlery do you use -- in space? You, in the back, there.
MS. SCHWARZ: Thank you. I will stop there
posted by the quidnunc kid at 6:38 AM on April 13, 2011 [30 favorites]


And if you donate at the $500 level, Nina Totenberg will read this thread to you.
posted by jph at 6:41 AM on April 13, 2011 [23 favorites]


This just gets more bizarre as you read on:

Having listened to proceedings on cspan before, it wouldn't surprise me if this was a verbatim transcript.
posted by empath at 6:44 AM on April 13, 2011


Now i'm afraid to read the transcript because I'll be so saddened if it turns out the quidnunc kid made that all up
posted by ook at 7:07 AM on April 13, 2011


And if you donate at the $500 level, Nina Totenberg will read this thread to you.

I don't have that much money right now. I'll have to be content to be emailed Mama Stanberg's poisonous fruit relish recipe for a $250 donation.
posted by inturnaround at 7:18 AM on April 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


JUSTICE THOMAS: ...
posted by m@f at 7:23 AM on April 13, 2011 [21 favorites]


empath - well yeah. That's what it is.

I've been reading through the transcript. It's actually pretty fascinating stuff. There was a traffic stop that is being presumed to have been an illegal stop. It may or may not have been, in fact, illegal, but that's the presumption they're working on here because of how things worked out in a lower court.

So they had this illegal stop and asked the guy what his name was. He gave them his name and they ran it through the DMV only to find that his license was suspended, whereupon they arrested him.

One side is arguing that, because the initial stop was illegal, all evidence uncovered thereafter is properly deemed to be fruit of the poisoned tree and ought to have been suppressed.

The other side is arguing against this in two different ways:
1) That a person's identification is fundamentally different from other sorts of evidence, and therefore can always be properly obtained
2) That, as the state already possessed the DMV records, they can not be suppressed

The justices are then quizzing the counsel about various hypothetical outcomes of their respective positions, how they might result in unacceptable dangers to society, unacceptable expansions of police power, and so on.
posted by kavasa at 7:29 AM on April 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


And now that I've hit post I realize that of course empath was referring to the post that he, you know, quoted. Duh.

This is what happens when I have to split the morning presspot with my boyfriend.
posted by kavasa at 7:31 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


1) That a person's identification is fundamentally different from other sorts of evidence, and therefore can always be properly obtained.

I am Spartacus.
posted by three blind mice at 7:36 AM on April 13, 2011


I like this. The right made a big deal out of the statement by Sotomayor that "that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life."

It seems, at least in this exchange, that those life experiences are being appropriately applied to the benefit of all.


Because Justice Sotomayor has been questioned by police without justification? Or is it because you think that Latina women are questioned by police without justification?

Maybe you are not aware that there is no shortage of questions by other justices -- including white, male justices -- in other cases questioning whether police need some justification to stop an individual for questions. I recall that Justice Alito asked in Arizona v. Johnson in 2008, and a quick search would pull up dozens more examples. In fact, the justices ask questions about the justification for officers' actions in just about every Fourth Amendment case, and they have explicitly addressed cases concerning pretextual searches, arbitrary questioning of individuals, etc.

I don't want to ruin your enjoyment of the exchange ("I like this"), but if it's based on some stereotype of how latinas or white men or the fuddy-duddy old Supreme Court are supposed to think and act, then your satisfaction might be misplaced.
posted by Slap Factory at 7:52 AM on April 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Poison tree very pretty and the poison flower is sweet
But the fruit of the poison tree is impossible to eat...
posted by fishmasta at 8:13 AM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


JUSTICE THOMAS: ...

I got a nerdy lol out of this. My high school civics teacher would be so proud.
posted by honkeoki at 8:32 AM on April 13, 2011


He probably doesn't like fruit, anyway.
posted by maryr at 8:41 AM on April 13, 2011


I have a theory that Justice Thomas during oral arguments is pretty much Lucky from Waiting for Godot. One of these days, a member of the Supreme Court bar is inadvertently going to blurt out "THINK" during oral arguments and then Thomas is going to monologue a question.
After his monologue, the proceedings will grind to a standstill, and any remaining time on the clock of the party arguing is just going to pass, silently, until the red light comes on. The clerk will raise a sign that says "FIN" and everyone will rise as the justices silently withdraw from the courtroom. Everyone else will then look to one another as if to say "Hold me," until at last, Nina Totenberg rises from her seat and breaks the silence by saying "Nothing to be done."
posted by Dr. Zira at 8:52 AM on April 13, 2011 [11 favorites]


Dr. Zira, please make this happen with puppets or papercuts or pre-school children if you can't get adults who look like the justices!
posted by vespabelle at 9:03 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


properly suppressible fruit

Just the laugh I needed today.
posted by cp311 at 9:14 AM on April 13, 2011


This thread makes me so happy. I may not like what Scalia and Roberts write but holy cow, their questions are just so full of win.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:14 AM on April 13, 2011


I hope that somewhere, at some time, a lawyer has had to argue about the fruit of the poisonous tree (in the metaphorical/legal sense) in a case involving literal trees and fruit.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:45 AM on April 13, 2011


Tip of the hat to Justice Kagan for this:

JUSTICE KAGAN: So, Ms. Halligan, suppose -you're suggesting there should be an exception for knowledge of identity. Suppose there were a clearly illegal search and the government is looking for a head of some kind of criminal syndicate and knows this only by an alias, all right; and -- and finds out as a result of this illegal search -- pick your -- pick your alias, you know, John Smith -- finds out, you know -- finds out that this person whose house they're searching is John Smith, is the head of this criminal syndicate.
Can the government then use that knowledge of identity, knowledge that this person goes under this alias, in order to build a case around this guy?

MS. HALLIGAN: In your hypothetical I'm not sure whether there would be any Fifth Amendment issues that would be at play, but -

JUSTICE KAGAN: No, they find out this person's alias as the result of the illegal search, and that allows them to build a substantial criminal case.

MS. HALLIGAN: If all that is obtained is the name, then the exclusionary rule should not be applied.

JUSTICE KAGAN: So there's a diary, and it says: I am John Smith. That's Keyser Soze.

(Laughter.)

JUSTICE KAGAN: I am Keyser Soze. That would not be suppressible?

MS. HALLIGAN: The diary itself, the document would be suppressible. The knowledge that that person is the -- is Keyser Soze would not be subject to suppression, and knowledge should never be something that is subject to suppression, in any event.


So Elena Kagan is Keyser Soze? Dude.
posted by bakerina at 3:29 PM on April 13, 2011


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