Doctrine Of Fruits Of Poisonous Tree

Doctrine Of Fruits Of Poisonous Tree

Utkarsha Singh_JudicateMe


This Blog is written by Utkarsha Singh from University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun. Edited by Swati Pragyan.



The doctrine of the poisonous tree principle or the term “fruit of the poisonous tree” is very similar to the law of exclusive evidence rule. The fruit of the poisonous tree is a legal metaphor that was developed by the courts of the United States of America. The meaning of this metaphor is that the evidence (fruit) is inadmissible if it was obtained as a result of an illegal search, arrest, and coercive questioning (that is, the source of the evidence is poisonous). This is because it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. According to the Poisonous Tree Fruit Doctrine, Evidence obtained from an illegal arrest, search or seizure is not acceptable as evidence in the court of law. These courts exclude such types of evidence at the time of the trial and the state is prohibited from using the same as evidence during the trial. Mainly seized evidence normally represents the “poisonous tree” but that evidence is itself the first creation fruit of some prohibited government action.

For example, if there is an illegal interrogation that leads to physical evidence, the exclusion rule prohibits the introduction of interrogation in criminal proceedings. Furthermore, physical evidence is excluded because it is the fruit of the illegal process. Similarly, if the police coerced a confession in which the criminal defendant said where a weapon used in a crime was located and the police obtained a search warrant based on this confession, the weapon would be inadmissible because it would be the fruit of the poisonous tree. Similarly, the confession would also not be admissible.

The purpose of this doctrine is to deter police misconduct. The original illegal evidence is considered the poisonous tree, and any evidence coming from this tree is similarly contaminated by the poison.


Mainly seized evidence normally represents the “poisonous tree” but that evidence is itself the first creation fruit of some prohibited government action. Thus, the books and records detained in Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914) were the first creation resulting from an illegal search and seizure.

They were not included as evidence because if letters and personal credentials can be confiscated and used as evidence in a criminal trial against a defendant of a crime, the Fourth Amendment safeguards that declares your right to be protected against such searches and seizures and, so far as those placed are apprehensive, might as well be incapacitated from the Constitution. There must be a crucial relationship between the illegal activity and evidence seized to justify segregation. Therefore, the week’s opinion says nothing about causality, it is evident that there was a fundamental relationship between illegitimate search and seizure and documentary evidence that discovered.

In Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385 (1920) the doctrine “fruit of the poisonous tree” was first enunciated, where central agents seized books, illegal papers, and documents and then photographed the necessary information before returning the originals.

A broad reading of Silverthorne leads to the conclusion that illegally seized evidence can never be used by the Government, although the facts revealed by that evidence can be obtained from an independent source. The opinion states that although a corporation could not have withstood a valid subpoena, “A corporation’s rights against unlawful search and seizure are be protected even if the same result had been legally achieved.” Implicit in this statement is the notion that the prohibition of indirect use of illegally the evidence seized does not in any way depend on what the government could or could have done, but rather on what was done.

Incorrectly obtained facts do not become sacred and inaccessible if knowledge of them is obtained from an independent source. It can be tested like any other, but the knowledge acquired by the government, the error itself cannot be used simply because it is used in a derived way.

Incorporation of Poison Tree Principle in the Indian Evidence Act

It is true that eating the fruit of the poisonous tree could be fatal or might cause severe illness as the poison of the tree is eventually transferred to the fruit and then to the human who consumes it.

The foregoing exclusion rule has some roots in the Indian evidence law. The confession law clearly states that the confession obtained for violation of the basic protection provided for in constitutional rights is not admissible in the cut as proof. The Indian Evidence Law and the Indian Constitution provide some rules regarding taking evidence from the accused person.

Taking the natural principle into the area of admissibility of evidence of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. It is well settled that the evidence obtained by illegal means does not affect the admissibility of evidence. Thus, “test of admissibility lies in relevancy and not on how the evidence was obtained” this was held by the privy council in Kuruma v queen, 2 WLR 223, (1955) and the same was also reiterated by the supreme court in the case of Pooran mal v Director inspector, 1 S.C.C. 345, (1974). It means that no matter how and from where the evidence was obtained whether illegally or legally, it is accepted to be admissible. There were many instances where conversations were tape-recorded without the knowledge and consent of the participant in the conversation. The case of R.M. Malkani v state of Maharashtra, 1973 AIR 157 is a judicial precedent on the admissibility of tape-recorded evidence, irrespective of means of obtain.

India does not have “fruit of poisonous tree” doctrine of US but as per the need of the hour, it has been included in Indian legal system but not in pari materia (same to same) rather as suggested by the law commission of India in its 94th report for the addition of section 166A in the Indian Evidence Act, 1972. It is within the judicial discretion which has to be exercised judicially and non-arbitrarily as proposed by the (LCI).

Narco-Analysis Test

Confessions are generally considered admissible as evidence in the presumption that no person will make a statement against their interest unless it is true. In the Indian Evidence Law, there is no specific separate provision making them admissible. However, all confessions are not admissible. It is also now a universally accepted principle that confesses that coerced-induced (involuntary confessions) will not be admitted as evidence. Therefore, all legal systems provide for certain rules to exclude confessions made under certain circumstances. This is the main reason why confessions made during the narco- analysis test is not admissible by law.

Exceptions of the Doctrine

There are two important exceptions to the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine:

1. If the police had an independent source of knowledge of the evidence in addition to the fruits of the illegal search, then the doctrine will not exclude the discovered evidence.

2. If the discovery of the evidence was “inevitable”, the evidence may be admitted, since it was not then the illegal search that caused the evidence to be found. “Inevitable” is a strong word, and to admit evidence under this exception, a court must find that the police would have discovered the evidence whether or not they had conducted an unreasonable search.


Wong Sun v. United States, (371 U.S. 471 (1963)

In this case, the prosecution introduced drugs as evidence against the accused.  Federal officials had learned about drugs from a witness they knew only because of a statement by the defendant during an illegal arrest. The Supreme Court ruled that everything the officers discovered as a result of the illegal arrest was the fruit of the poisonous tree: not only the statement itself but also the information of the witnesses they obtained from it and the actual drugs to which the witness drove.

Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961)

“Award the right but in actuality to with-hold its privilege and enjoyment.”

It was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that the exclusion rule, which prevents prosecutors from using evidence in court obtained by violating the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, applies not only to the US federal government but also to the whole of United States. The Supreme Court accomplished this by using a principle known as selective incorporation. At Mapp, this involved incorporating the provisions, as interpreted by the Court, of the Fourth Amendment, which applies only to federal government actions in the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause, which applies to the actions of the states.

Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)

The court ruled that the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures is not violated when a police officer stops a suspect on the street and searches him without probable cause for arrest if the police officer has reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime and has a reasonable belief that the person “may be armed and currently dangerous.”

For their protection, after a person has been detained, the police may quickly search the surface of the person’s outer clothing for weapons if they have reasonable suspicions that the detained person is armed. This reasonable suspicion must be based on “specific and articulable facts” and not simply on an officer’s hunch. The permitted police action has subsequently been termed “stop and search”, or simply “Terry search”. Terry’s standard was later extended to temporary arrests of people in vehicles, known as traffic stops.

The basis of the Supreme Court’s decision revolves around the understanding that, as the opinion points out, “the exclusion rule has its limitations.” The meaning of the rule is to protect people from unreasonable searches and seizures intended to collect evidence, not from searches and seizures for other purposes (such as crime prevention or personal protection for police officers)

Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)

The Court ruled that the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents prosecutors from using a person’s statements made in response to interrogation in police custody as evidence at their trial unless they can demonstrate that the person was informed of the right to consult with a lawyer before and during the interrogation, and the right against self-incrimination before the police interrogation, and that the accused not only understood these rights but voluntarily waived them.

Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886)

In this case, 35 flat glass boxes were seized at the Port of New York for failing to pay import duties. To prove the case, the government forced E.A. Boyd & Sons to produce its invoice for the Union Plate Glass Company of Liverpool, England. Boyd complied but claimed that the order was a form of self-incrimination.

The Court held that “a search and seizure [was] equivalent [to] a mandatory production of a man’s private documents” and that the search was “an ‘unreasonable search and seizure’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012)

In 2004, defendant Jones was suspected of drug trafficking. Police investigators requested and received an order to place a GPS tracking device on the underside of the defendant’s car, but then exceeded the scope of the order both geographically and over time. The Supreme Court justices unanimously voted that this was a “search” under the Fourth Amendment, although they divided 5-4 as to the fundamental reasons behind that conclusion. Most argued that by physically installing the GPS device in the defendant’s car, the police had committed a crime against Jones’ “personal effects”; and this attempt, in an attempt to obtain information, constituted a search per se.

The United States Supreme Court case held that installing a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device in a vehicle and using the device to monitor vehicle movements constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment.


We see that the court saw the rule as something that should be applied only when the judge considers that its application would help achieve its purpose and when the non-application of the rule would exceed social costs if the evidence is excluded. The courts we see have changed their perspective on it and have reluctantly seen the application of this rule. In the previous cases, the courts believed that a liberal interpretation of the rule should be given, whereas during and after the 1970s we see a change in this attitude. This reluctance can also be felt when looking at the exceptions that have evolved in the judicial reasoning process. In the United States against León [30], a search warrant was issued to search the defendant’s home after receiving information that he and his friend were selling drugs. After the seizure of the drugs, the affidavit on which the search warrant was founded was later insufficient. Attempts were made to suppress the evidence at trial. Judge White, who issued the majority opinion of the court, stated that the doctrine of the ‘fruits of a poisonous tree’ applies only when the order is based on a reckless or deliberately false affidavit. In this case, the purpose of the exclusion rule, that is, to discourage police misconduct, would not be promoted because the police officers had not made any mistakes and acted in good faith. It should be applied only on a case-by-case basis and when the judge has been misled when issuing the order on the insufficiency of the affidavit. Therefore, the court added the good-faith exception and held that the evidence obtained in good faith and without error from the police officers should be acceptable.


There can be a comparison between the Indian and American concept of exclusion from confessions or the other evidence that the police extort using scientific techniques or in custody torture. Exclusion rule first found in US courts at the beginning of the 19th century, but on the other hand, we see the Indian Evidence Law. This law was made in 1872 and at that time the provisions are the same, for example, Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act the confession obtained by induction or threat, etc.

As we see, the exclusion rule has increasingly been interpreted by the courts as something that has evolved to deter police misconduct rather than an effective means of guaranteeing citizens’ rights under the Constitution. The basis of this rule is the principle that ends do not always justify the means used to achieve them. If the evidence had been obtained for the violation of citizens’ rights, they were “poisonous” and inadmissible. The exclusionary rule discourages police misconduct when evidence is suppressed even though it leaves the criminal free and undermines the truth-seeking process. It is at this juncture that we need to do a cost-benefit analysis of it. As the judges pointed out in many cases, there is no empirical evidence to show that the police officers were discouraged by it.

Courts have now become aware of the shortcomings of this rule, as evident by its increased dilution and applicability in limited cases. When the judge in the previous cases, such as in the Boyd case, wanted a broad interpretation of the term “unreasonable search and seizure,” we see that a century later, judges are cautious in applying this rule. Furthermore, the concept of justice establishes that “the habit by which a person renders to every one his due”. If this is the theory of justice, isn’t it true that obtaining evidentiary evidence that indicates the guilt of the accused is only one means to achieve justice? In addition to this, this definition of justice is also in close accordance with the theory of retribution.


[1] All Answers ltd, Fruit of the Poisonous Tree: An Analysis (, July 2020),

[2] Poison Tree Principle: It’s Applicability In India, Shodhganga,

[3] What Does “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” Mean in Criminal Proceedings?,,

[4] Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914).

[5] Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385 (1920).

[6] Kuruma v queen, 2 WLR 223, (1955).

[7] Pooran mal v Director inspector, 1 S.C.C. 345, (1974).

[8] R.M. Malkani v state of Maharashtra, 1973 AIR 157.

[9] Wong Sun v. United States, (371 U.S. 471 (1963).

[10] Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961).

[11] Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).

[12] Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

[13] Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886).

[14] United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012).

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