Earlier this year, a man was pulled over by police on the highway. The highway was known for being a popular route for drug trafficking and this incident appeared to be no different. Police conducted a search of the man's car after apparently witnessing some suspicious behavior and found 11 pounds of methamphetamine.
There is no question that the man was transporting a substantial amount of illicit drugs. There is evidently no question that the man gave police permission to search his vehicle. However, federal drug charges filed in light of the traffic stop were dismissed thanks to the legal doctrine known as "fruit of the poisonous tree."
This doctrine protects people from being convicted of crimes based on improperly gathered evidence. It states that if evidence is illegally gathered, it cannot be used in a trial. This includes physical evidence collected during an illegal search or as a result of an illegal interrogation.
In the story we discussed above, a federal judge ruled that the traffic stop that resulted in the search was illegal. According to news reports, officers cited an unsafe lane change as the reason why the man was pulled over. However, after reviewing video of the stop, it became clear that the man shifted lanes because he saw an officer speeding up behind him in the passing lane. Because his lane change was not unsafe, there was no reason to pull him over and therefore, no grounds to search his vehicle.
Because the search violated the driver's 4th amendment rights, any evidence collected from it is considered fruit of the poisonous tree and therefore cannot be used. Without the evidence from the stop, there was no choice but to dismiss the charges.
If you are in a similar situation involving drug trafficking charges and a potentially illegal search, it can be crucial that you consult an attorney to discuss your options for defending yourself. In some cases, citing this doctrine can be effective at getting the charges dropped or reduced.