Saturday, February 24, 2007

the statute of frogs and the fruit of the poisonous tree

In my delirium I will attempt to write a blog about some law. Two of my favorites. Ok, not really, but two with good names.

The Statute of Frauds, which someone during my first year, probably Rose, always misheard as "Statute of Frogs," is a real beast of a law concept. I don't know why it always seemed like such a beast, though. After two-months of concentrated study, it finally makes sense in all the contexts in which it turns up.

Basically, the Statute of Frauds says that certain contracts have to be in writing. I know, as I mentioned in a previous law-post, many of us who aren't legally educated (including me before this fateful journey began) tend to imagine that a defining feature of a "contract" is that it is written down and signed by the parties. In reality, however, oral contracts are just as binding. Unless the Statute of Frauds applies.

My study-book offers a great mnemonic device for remembering when the S. of F. applies: MY LEGS. M is for Marriage: any promises made in consideration of marriage. Y is for Year: contracts that, by their terms, can't be performed in one year. L is for Land: promises creating an interest in land. E is for Executor: a promise by an executor to pay an estate's debts out of her own pockets. G is for Goods: contracts for the sale of goods for $500 or more with limited exceptions. S is for Sureties: a surety is when you promise to pay a debt owed by somebody else (like co-signing on someone else's loan). Contracts for any of those things must be in writing.

Well that was exciting.

Much better is the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. This is a Criminal Procedure concept and I can remember Eagle Eye Goldberg at the front of the class talking about it in her particular, inflected voice. Oh how I love Eagle Eye Goldberg. Anyway, to understand the fruit of the poisonous tree, you have to understand exclusion.

In this country, the constitution protects people from the government in certain very important ways. The fourth amendment, for example, protects us against unreasonable searches and seizures. The fifth amendment protects us from being compelled to offer self-incriminating testimony. Exclusion is the way we have evolved to protect these protections.

Evidence that has been obtained in violation of these principles is excluded from criminal proceedings in most circumstances. For example, if I am unreasonably stopped and searched on the street in violation of the fourth amendment, any evidence found in that search will be excluded (in theory and hopefully in practice) from a criminal proceeding against me.

To take the example a step further, imagine that the "evidence" that results from this illegal search is a drawing I have made of the methlab I have built in my basement, with a list of ingredients for making meth and some contact info for suppliers I plan to buy materials from to make meth. Based on this evidence, the cop gets a warrant and searches my house. He finds my methlab and all the meth I've made so far and I go to jail, and then court.

According to the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, any evidence collected as a result of the illegal search is excluded, just like the original illegal evidence. That means, because the first search was illegal, the evidence obtained from the search of my house is also illegal, even though the cops had a warrant by then. This evidence is considered to be the fruit of the poisonous tree of the first illegal search, and is excluded.

To many people, this might seem absurd. I have obviously committed a crime. The cops have evidence of my methlab, they have my meth, they have my suppliers, they have me! Why exclude this evidence? Why let a hardened criminal like me off the hook on a "technicality"?? Good question.

In this country, we have decided that the best way to guarantee that the police behave and follow the rules spelled out in the Constitution is to prevent them from benefiting from their wrongdoing. That plan presumes that the cops actually benefit from their wrongdoing if the illegal evidence is used against a suspect. It raises the question whether it makes any difference at all to cops what happens far down the line, in court, after they've done all their cop-work which may or may not have included unconstitutional behavior.

I, personally, think there are better ways to police the police, but until we institute them, I'm all for leaving the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine in place. And anyway, it has such a cool, poetic name, how could we get rid of it?


Blogger kristy said...

i am writing to let u no that i have gcse work and i need to find out in a list that the ingredients of a poisned tree if you can help me out please may you put it on google or leave me a message on my sddress

8:55 AM  

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