Brief Fact Summary. The constitutionality of various statements made by suspected drug dealers was at issue.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. “[V]erbal evidence which derives so immediately from an unlawful entry and an unauthorized arrest as the officers’ action in the present case is no less the ‘fruit’ of official illegality than the more common tangible fruits of the unwarranted intrusion.”
Issue. “[W]hether, granting establishment of the primary illegality, the evidence to which instant objection is made has been come at by exploitation of that illegality or instead by means sufficiently distinguishable to be purged of the primary taint[?]”
Held. The majority began by pointing out the differences in Toy and Wong Suns’ cases and how they had to discuss each individually.
The majority observed, “[t]he exclusionary rule has traditionally barred from trial physical, tangible materials obtained either during or as a direct result of an unlawful invasion. It follows from our holding in [Silverman v. United States] that the Fourth Amendment may protect against the overhearing of verbal statements as well as against the more traditional seizure of ‘papers and effects.’ Similarly, testimony as to matters observed during an unlawful invasion has been excluded in order to enforce the basic constitutional policies. Thus, verbal evidence which derives so immediately from an unlawful entry and an unauthorized arrest as the officers’ action in the present case is no less the ‘fruit’ of official illegality than the more common tangible fruits of the unwarranted intrusion. Nor do the policies underlying the exclusionary rule invite any logical distinction between physical and verbal evidence. Either in terms of deterring lawless conduct by federal officers, or o
f closing the doors of the federal courts to any use of evidence unconstitutionally obtained the danger in relaxing the exclusionary rules in the case of verbal evidence would seem too great to warrant introducing such a distinction.”
The majority concluded that it is “clear that the narcotics were ‘come at by the exploitation of that illegality’ and hence that they may not be used against Toy.”
“Wong Sun’s unsigned confession was not the fruit of that arrest, and was therefore properly admitted at trial. On the evidence that Wong Sun had been released on his own recognizance after a lawful arraignment, and had returned voluntarily several days later to make the statement, [the majority held] that the connection between the arrest and the statement had “become so attenuated as to dissipate the taint.”
The court’s holding as to Toy “that this ounce of heroin was inadmissible against Toy does not compel a like result with respect to Wong Sun. The exclusion of the narcotics as to Toy was required solely by their tainted relationship to information unlawfully obtained from Toy, and not by any official impropriety connected with their surrender by Yee. The seizure of this heroin invaded no right of privacy of person or premises which would entitle Wong Sun to object to its use at his trial.”
Discussion. This is one of the Supreme Court’s seminal cases on the fruits of the poisonous tree doctrine.