The Old “Fruit of The Poisonous Tree” Doctrine

October 12, 2010

During the first year of law school all students are taught the doctrine called “fruit of the poisonous tree.”  According to Wikipedia:

“Fruit of the poisonous tree is a legal metaphor in the United States used to describe evidence that is obtained illegally.[1] The logic of the terminology is that if the source of the evidence (the “tree”) is tainted, then anything gained from it (the “fruit”) is as well.” The phrase first appeared in Nardone v. United States, a 1937 Supreme Court case.

Everyone learns about this in law school except, apparently, Eric Holder and Barack Obama. When the Justice Department announced last year that Gitmo detainees would be tried in civilian courts in New York, one of the many criticisms of the idea was that evidence might be excluded in a federal courthouse that would have been admissible in a military tribunal.

It has happened already in the first of these cases to make it to trial. Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has excluded testimony from a witness in the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who faces charges for his alleged involvement in the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Kaplan stated the following in his decision:

“The Court has not reached this conclusion lightly. It is acutely aware of the perilous nature of the world in which we live. But the Constitution is the rock upon which our nation rests. We must follow it not only when it is convenient, but when fear and danger beckon in a different direction. To do less would diminish us and undermine the foundation upon which we stand.”
This will rightly be seen as a noble decision, but Kaplan was also aware of one immutable fact: Mr. Ghailani won’t be freed no matter what the jury says. He’ll simply return to his status as a detainee if he’s acquitted. The decision contained the following caveat:
“his [Ghailani’s] status as an “enemy combatant” probably would permit his detention as something akin to a prisoner of war until hostilities end between the United States and Al Qaeda and the Taliban even if he were found not guilty in this case.”
Kaplan didn’t ask the next logical question: Why go through this charade of a trial to begin with? The Government certainly must have better ways to spend taxpayer money during these tough economic times.

Back in November of last year I posted about these terror trials. So did just about every political blogger and journalist in the country. Many of those writers pointed out that in a civilian court, rules of evidence would apply that might make convictions difficult or impossible. Obama wasn’t concerned, and neither was Holder. That’s probably because they were aware that these trials would be meaningless.

I don’t have any great sympathy for Mr. Ghailani, but I do care about our Constitution and the rule of law.  Meaningless show trials such as these make a mockery of our system of justice.

{ 2 comments } October 12, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Reposted this. Greetings from the Speedy DNS

eastlandgrl October 18, 2010 at 6:57 am

interesting, thanks

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