Will SCOTUS Hear 8th Circuit's Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Purge?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on September 12, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Back in February, the Eighth Circuit upheld James "Hot Rod" Faulkner's conspiracy and distribution drug conviction in U.S. v. Faulkner. In August, Faulkner filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court to challenge a traffic stop that factored into that conviction.

On the evening of October 31, 2008, Lieutenant Steven Stange of the University of Iowa Police Department stopped Faulkner as he was driving a car, claiming that Faulkner ran a red light. One problem: Video from Stange's own cruiser shows that Faulkner didn't run the light.

After Faulkner gave Stange his license, Stange conducted a records check and discovered that Faulkner was wanted on an outstanding federal arrest warrant. Stange then arrested Faulkner.

Police officers conducted a search incident to arrest of the inside of the car, and discovered narcotics hidden behind the car's glove compartment. Stange informed Faulkner that drugs had been found in the car and instructed another officer to read petitioner his Miranda rights, but Faulkner ignored his right to remain silent and made incriminating statements.

Faulkner tried to suppress the evidence stemming from the car stop as "fruit of the poisonous tree." While the district court recognized that Stange lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Faulkner, it ruled that the intervening circumstance - the arrest warrant for Faulkner on federal drug charges - purged the "taint" of the original illegal stop.

Now, Faulkner is appealing to the Supreme Court for relief.

Do two wrongs actually make a right? Can the "taint" of an illegal search be overcome simply because the police were lucky enough to stop a wanted criminal, or should that evidence remain fruit of the poisonous tree?

Faulkner's petition for writ of certiorari was SCOTUSblog's petition of the day, so perhaps we'll receive Supreme Court clarification on this issue.

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