In one of our recent blog posts, we went over a legal doctrine called fruit of the poisonous tree. This legal concept prevents prosecutors from introducing evidence against you in trial, if that evidence was found as a result of a violation of your civil rights. The metaphor is that the civil rights violation is the “poisonous tree,” and the evidence that gets found as a result of this violation is that tree's fruit.
However, our earlier blog post focused on the fruit of the poisonous tree, as it is applied to the Fourth Amendment. While the Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches or seizures, it is only one of the Constitutional Amendments that protects you during a police investigation. Among the other rights that you have during a criminal investigation comes from the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees your right to an attorney for your defense.
The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Also Applies to Violations of the Sixth Amendment
Because the Sixth Amendment also provides you constitutional rights, any evidence that is discovered as a result of a violation of these rights is also subject to the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, preventing it from being presented against you in court.
Here's an example of how the fruit of the poisonous tree can protect your Sixth Amendment rights.
How the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Works for the Sixth Amendment
In one case from 1968, there was a murder in Des Moines, Iowa. While the body of the victim had not yet been found, eyewitness evidence was being obtained that suggested that a man named Robert Williams might have done the deed. When Williams turned himself in to police in Davenport, Iowa, nearly 160 miles away from Des Moines, he exercised his right to an attorney to be present while he was questioned concerning the crime. His attorney, however, was in Des Moines. Police offered to drive William to Des Moines, and stated that they would not question him on the way.
Of course, police talked to Williams about the murder on the way to Des Moines, and Williams told them where to find the body. He was subsequently charged with murder, and the fact that he told police where to find the body was used against him at trial. He was convicted.
The case went to the Supreme Court, which decided, among other things, that questioning someone when their attorney was not present after they'd requested to have one there was a violation of the Sixth Amendment. Because Williams' statement about where to find the body was given during this conversation without an attorney, it would not be admissible in court.
Maine Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly
Having a criminal defense attorney on your side during a police investigation is one of the most important ways to protect yourself from a wrongful conviction. If you've been charged with a crime in the state of Maine, contact defense attorney William T. Bly at (207) 571-8146 or online.