Can "fruit of the poisoned tree" become non-poisonous? (legal question)

If the police were, say, anonymously mailed a recording containing evidence of a crime and it is not discovered how the recording was obtained, is it admissible?


IANAL, but it is my understanding that rules regarding search and seizure and evidence collecting only apply to police officers. Evidence gathered by a private citizen of their own free will can be admissible as long as there was no prior request or instruction or collaboration with the police which led to the private citizen collecting that evidence.

Are you asking whether the police who had obtained evidence illegally could then mail that evidence to themselves (or another police department) and then pretend they didn’t know where it came from?

Probably not, as it would seem nearly impossible to authenticate such a recording. Who made it? Where? When? Who else was present? What happened before and after the recording? Has the recording been altered in any way? Where has the recording been since it was made? Who had access to it? Is the recording complete, or only a portion of a larger whole?

Since the op invoked the “fruit of the poisoned tree” doctrine, say the recording contained information about where to look for the murder weapon. Even if the recording itself would not be admissible would the fruit, i.e. the murder weapon, found as a result of listening to the recording be admissible?

If the tape says that the weapon is in a publicly accessible place, the police can go and get it, and the only admissibility questions would be whether it can be positively identified as the murder weapon. The tape would not figure in to that analysis. But if the tape says that the weapon is in a particular person’s home, then the police would need a warrant to go get it, for which they would have to have probable cause. Whether the tape alone amounts to probable cause is going to depend on the particular facts of the case, and whether there is some reason to think the tape is reliable, as opposed to a prank or a delusion.

Also, if the person on the tape tells a story of how the weapon got to that spot, that story is hearsay (even if the weapon is indeed found there) and cannot be admitted into evidence itself, except in various exceptional circumstances.

The scenario described isn’t a “fruit of the poisonous tree” situation. The tape would likely be inadmissible in court because it can’t be corroborated by anyone. The police can still use information on the tape in their investigation.

“Fruit of the poisonous tree” is when evidence is suppressed, usually due to error or misconduct by police. Any evidence found as a result of this misconduct is also suppressed. Sometimes the evidence can be reintroduced, under eventual discovery.

For example:

Police interrogate a suspect without reading him his rights. During his confession the suspect tells police the murder weapon is in his home. The court would suppress the confession, because the suspect wasn’t read his rights. They would also suppress the murder weapon as “fruit of the poisonous tree”.

The police then gather enough evidence independent of the confession, to get a search warrant of the suspects home. The court could then reintroduce the murder weapon as evidence, as it would have eventually been discovered, absent police misconduct.