The Doctrine of Fruit of the Poisonous tree 1939

    Fruit of the Poisonous tree
    doctrine of the Fruit of the Poisonous tree

    Meaning of Fruit of the Poisonous tree

    The doctrine of the “Fruit of the Poisonous tree” states that the evidence (fruit) from an illegal search or seizure, which is a tainted source (the tree), would also be tainted and hence, inadmissible.

    Nardone v. united States where term “fruits of the poisonous tree” was used first

    Frankfurter, J. in Nardone v. United States[1] initially used the term “Fruit of the Poisonous tree”, where it was held that, evidence procured in a federal court by tapping wires in violation of the Communications Act of 1934 is inadmissible. This doctrine of Fruit of the Poisonous tree was applied not only to the intercepted conversations but also to evidence procured through the use of knowledge gained from such conversations.

    The doctrine mandates that admission and rejection of evidences in a court of law merely based on source and reliability. It stated that evidence extracted by threat, torture, and inducement, are likely to be unreliable. This protective principle discourages improper practices during the stage of investigation as well as safeguard individual rights and liberties.

    Status in India

    The judicial ruling in the United States, makes procurement of evidence through illegal means as it violates the right to privacy under the fourth Amendment. However in India there is no strict enforceability of this doctrine of Fruit of the Poisonous tree as of now. The Indian courts have an option to admit evidence obtained via theft, wrongful arrest, sting operation etc. The Indian Evidence Act, to a large extent allow such evidence if they are relevant.

    With the increase in the violation of human rights and ever expansive interpretation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India the 97th law Commission report acknowledged the necessity to reconsider the doctrine into the current Indian judiciary. Under Indian Evidence Act there is no statutory prohibition which restrict the illegal prohibition of evidence unlike the other international law. Unlawful seizures, illegal arrest, wiretapping are all antithetical to a fair criminal justice system.

    Umesh Kumar vs. State of A.P.

    The Supreme Court in Umesh Kumar v. State of A.P[2] it was settled that even if any evidence is procured by improper or illegal means, there is no bar to its admissibility if it is relevant and its genuineness is proved. Further in the landmark case of Pooran Mal v. Director of Inspection of Income Tax[3] the Supreme Court clearly mentioned that there is no constitutional or statutory document that prescribes for exclusion of illegally obtained evidence, hence the only test of admissibility is the relevancy of the evidence.

    Fruit of the Poisonous tree

    State of Punjab Vs. Baldev Singh

    In 1999 the tables turned when the Supreme Court in State of Punjab v. Baldev Singh[4] held that illegally obtained evidence is not admissible if it is obtained in violation of Section 50 of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. In the right to privacy case[5] the Supreme Court opposed the views taken under the Pooran Mal case and held right to privacy forms an integral part of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

    Conclusion: Fruit of the Poisonous tree

    There is a dire need of a legislation which deals with the admissibility of illegally obtained evidence. However the Article 20, 21 of the Constitution on India and Section 5 of the Indian Evidence Act incorporates the ideas of the doctrine in the Indian Judiciary.

    Fruit of the Poisonous tree


    [1] 308 U.S. 338 (1939) Fruit of the Poisonous tree

    [2] (2013) 10 SCC 591

    [3] (1974) 1 S.C.C. 345

    [4] AIR 1999 SC 2378

    [5] Justice K.S. Puttaswamy and Anr. v. Union of India and Ors, (2017) 10 SCC 1

    Fruit of the Poisonous tree Fruit of the Poisonous tree