Fruits of the Poisonous Tree

You only have to watch Law & Order for a month to hear the words "fruits of the poisonous tree". Apparently — I’m no lawyer, but I watch L&O — this is a doctrine in US law that says that evidence discovered through information gathered by illegal or unconstitutional means (such as a forced confession) may not be introduced by a prosecutor. The theory is that the "tree" (original illegal means) is poisoned and therfore poisons anything that "grows" from it.

I came to think of this as I listened to those who argue for amnesty for illegal aliens. They argue that many illegal aliens have been here in the US for years, held jobs, built homes, raised families and otherwise been contributing to our society. 

While all of this is laudable behavior, isn’t all of it — the job, the prosperity — "fruit of the poisonous tree"? None of that would have happened had there not been a series of "poisoned" acts. First, the illegal alien would have entered the country without appropriate documentation or permission. Second, the illegal alien would have been hired by an employer who did not validate the alien’s right to hold a job. Third, the illegal alien and/or employer may have used false identification — Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses — to report payroll, pay payroll and income taxes, and so forth.

Without having engaged in these illegal acts, the illegal alien would not be held up as one who has held the job, would not be able to build a home, could not afford to raise a family.

A principle of Good Government would hold, properly, that one should not profit from illegal activities. That principle underlies other laws. Drug enforcement is permitted to seize homes, cars, boats and other assets gained through drug sales. Likewise, the IRS seizes assets in cases of tax fraud. And, of course, the "fruits of the poisonous tree" blocks prosecution when the prosecutor proceeds illegally.

So this is not a new principle. Nor is it one to be abandoned when we consider what to do about illegal aliens. When we look for a resolution to the problem of illegal aliens, we would be wise to dismiss the argument that these illegal aliens have been here for a long time, prospered and contributed to the community. All of that, however laudable, must be labeled "fruits of the poisonous tree" and rejected.




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