Tempted by the Fruit of Another: Third Party Standing and the Exclusionary Rule
Kelly Walters, J.D. Candidate
The exclusionary rule prevents evidence that was obtained through unlawful search and seizure from being admitted in trial. The “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine holds that any further evidence found as a result of information uncovered through an unlawful search is also inadmissible at trial. The logic is that if the source of the evidence, the “tree,” is tainted, so too are its gains, or “fruit.” The doctrine was created to safeguard an individual’s privacy interest under the Fourth Amendment and deter police from using unconstitutional means to gather evidence.
But what happens if the person unlawfully searched is not the defendant? Can the defendant then challenge the constitutionality of the search if it produced incriminating evidence against him or her? If the search was conducted in bad faith, can the defendant challenge it through other means, such as the Fifth Amendment or a Franks hearing?
The short answer is no, at least within the Ninth Circuit. The reason is tied to standing. Since the defendant’s privacy interest was not invaded, he or she does not have standing under the Fourth Amendment to challenge a search of someone else. Even if the search “shocks the conscience,” the third party has no legal redress because his or her Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights were ultimately not invaded. Since the searched individuals are rarely parties to the case, they will not challenge the search either. As the following cases show, this leaves a third party defendant with limited, if any, legal recourse. It also raises important questions on how to deter police from invading the rights of one individual to ultimately convict another.