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Crime Evidence Scenarios

1. A young man robbed a woman in a women's restroom at the Washington National Monument. During the robbery, the woman had a good opportunity to see the young man. The woman immediately reported the robbery and described the young man who robbed her. Three days later, a young man (Crews) was improperly and illegally detained. Photographs were taken of the young man and a photographic display (array) was shown to the woman. She immediately identified Crews as the man who robbed her at gunpoint. In a lineup, the woman again identified Crews as the robber. At Crews's trial for armed robbery, the woman appeared as a witness and identified the defendant as the robber. Crews was convicted, and he appealed arguing that the in-court-identification was the "fruit of the poisonous tree" and should not be used as evidence.

Should the U.S. Supreme Court affirm Crews's conviction, and should the woman's in-court identification be allowed as evidence? Why?

2. California police officers improperly arrested Williams in his apartment. Before taking Williams to the police station, arrangements had to be made for the care of Williams' cat and dog. In an attempt to provide for the care of these animals, the officers went to the apartment of a neighbor (Mrs. Lopez) to inquire if she would take care of the animals. Mrs. Lopez told the officers that they should investigate Williams for a recent bank robbery in which the robber had presented his demand in a note threatening that he had nitroglycerin on his person. Mrs. Lopez stated that she was in Williams's apartment on the morning of the robbery and he was writing a note and had asked her how to spell nitroglycerin. The officers had not suspected Williams of the robbery, but the investigation that followed produced sufficient evidence to convict Williams of the bank robbery. An appeal was taken from the conviction arguing, among other issues, that the defense position of "the fruit of the poisonous tree" doctrine required suppression of the evidence that was ultimately used to convict Williams.

Should the evidence be suppressed, or should it be admissible in Williams's trial for armed robbery? Explain.

3. The defendant, who was charged with a robbery and murder, was placed in a jail cell with a police informant. The informant overheard the defendant make incriminating statements that he passed on to the police.

Can the informant appear as a witness and testify about the statements he heard if he took no action other than merely listening to what the defendant had to say?

Should the evidence of the defendant's statements be admissible if there was a prior arrangement with the police to put the informant in a position where he could overhear the defendant's statements?

If the informant "deliberately elicited" the statements from the defendant by questions and conversation, should the evidence be admissible? Explain.

4. Police were investigating a shooting death outside a cafe in Dallas, Texas. Defendant Orozco had left the scene of the shooting and had returned to his boardinghouse to sleep. At about 4 a.m. four police officers arrived at the petitioner's boardinghouse, were admitted by an unidentified woman, and were told that the petitioner was asleep in the bedroom. All four officials entered the bedroom and began to question the petitioner. From the moment he gave his name, according to the testimony of one of the officers, the petitioner was not free to go where he pleased, but was "under arrest." The officers asked him if he had been to the El Farleto restaurant that night; when he answered yes, he was asked if he owned a pistol. The petitioner admitted to owning one. After being asked a second time where the pistol was located, he admitted that it was in the washing machine in a backroom of the boardinghouse. Ballistics tests indicated that the gun found in the washing machine was the gun that fired the fatal shot.

Should statements of the defendant be admitted as evidence? Should the gun be admitted as evidence?

Solution Preview

I read your questions carefully and address each one and its parts.

1) Let's start with a background on the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. In criminal law, the doctrine that evidence discovered due to information found through illegal search or other unconstitutional means cannot be introduced by a prosecutor. The theory is that the tree (the original illegal evidence) is poisoned and thus taints what grows from it. For example, as part of a coerced admission made without giving a prime suspect the so-called "Miranda warnings" (statement of rights, including the right to remain silent and what he/she says will be used against them), the suspect tells the police the location of stolen property. Since the admission cannot be introduced as evidence in trial, neither can the stolen property. But keep this in mind: Some defendants believe that if they can show that a search was illegal, the case must be dismissed. This is not true! If a prosecutor has enough other evidence to prove the defendant guilty, the case can continue. Also, the illegally-seized evidence can be considered by a judge when deciding on an appropriate sentence following conviction, admitted in civil and deportation cases, and can be used by a prosecutor to impeach (attack the ...