Analysis Of The Fruit Of Poisonous Tree Doctrine

Arnav Ghai, Law Student
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Date : 03/06/2021
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Analysis Of The Fruit Of Poisonous Tree Doctrine

In my opinion, "Fruit of the poisonous tree" is a better approach towards dealing with illegally obtained evidence. To discuss why I think this is a better approach than the unfair operation principle currently being followed in India, I would analyse India's current position concerning this and its evolution over the years.

The law governing evidence law in India includes the Indian Evidence Act 1872[1*], any other state or parliament legislation indirectly talking about the angle of evidence and decisions rendered by the apex court.

[1* The Indian Evidence Act , 1872, Acts of Parliament, 1872 (India).]

The provisions relating to illegally obtained evidence barring few, are mentioned in Chapter 2 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872[2*]. There is no general provision that talks about the admissibility of illegal evidence. However, Section 5 of the act[3*] talks about the relevancy of evidence. Now the major conflict that arises is between the right against self-incrimination under Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India[4*] and the admissibility of the illegally obtained evidence. There is also a conflict related to Article 21 of the Constitution of India[5*], which talks about the right to privacy. Since there is no provision resolving this particular conflict, we would rely on the famous landmark decisions that are constantly being changed and overruled.

[2* Ibid.]

[3* Section 5, The Indian Evidence Act , 1872, Acts of Parliament, 1872 (India).]

[4* Indian Constitution, Article 20, Clause 3.]

[5* Indian Constitution, Article 21.]

To start with, one of the oldest cases on the same question was that of the privy council in the case of R v. Leathem[6*] where Justice Crompton for the court held that "It matters not how you get it; if you steal it even, it would be admissible"[7*]. Thus ascertaining a position that was building ground for the unfair means principle. Following this principle, it may be analysed that the Indian Courts had taken a more consequentialist approach that is they were concerned with the result and not how that result was achieved. Despite the recommendations of the 1st law commission report[8*], which clearly stated the police's gross misuse of power and that there is a need to curb this power.

[6* R v. Leathem (1861) 8 Cox CC 498.]

[7* Ibid.]

[8* 1st Law Commission Report, Government of India]

The first of the landmark judgments relating to this topic is in the case of Y.S. Nagree v. State of Maharashtra[9*], where the court held that if it is proved that there is no compulsion being used to obtain an illegally obtained evidence, then that evidence is admissible and is not barred by Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India[10*]. Then came another aspect in R.M. Malkani v. State of Maharashtra[11*] wherein the court relied on a few English Law cases. The court held that Article 20(3) of the Constitution[12*] violation is not done by procedure established by law, primarily saying that if it was obtained was not prescribed by law. This was the first case that laid down the Unfair Operation principle, although was not discussed in detail and was left to the court's discretion. This situation was followed in many cases till this ratio was refined in the case of Pooran Mal v. Director of Inspector[13*] where the court rejected the argument of comparing it with the U.S. jurisprudence wherein they follow the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine upheld in the case of Mapp v. Ohio[14*] that illegally obtained evidence is violative of the 4th and 5th amendment of the United States. The court rejected this claim relying on M.P. Sharma v. Satish Chandra[15*] where they said both the jurisprudence had textual differences. Instead, they upheld the situation in the Malkani case by adding that it should be reasonably enforced and that the prosecution ought not to take advantage. It also said that "this is a rule of prudence and not a rule of evidence". The current position is that held in the case of Baldev Singh v. State of Punjab[16*] where the court explicitly noted: "that judicial process may come under a cloud to condone acts of lawlessness conducted by the investigating agency during search operations and may also undermine respect for the law."

[9* Y.S Nagree v. State of Maharashtra, (1967) 3 SCR 720 (India).]

[10* Indian Constitution, Article 21.]

[11* R.M. Malkani v. State of Maharashtra, (1973) 1 SCC 471 (India).]

[12* Indian Constitution, Article 20, Clause 3.]

[13* Pooran Mal v. Director of Inspector, (1974) 1 SCC 345 (India).]

[14* Mapp v. Ohio, SCC Online US SC 136 (S.Ct. 1961).]

[15* M.P. Sharma v. Satish Chandra (1954) SCR 1077 (India).]

[16* Baldev Singh v. State of Punjab, (1999) 6 SCC 172 (India).]

So the final situation that is prevalent in India is -

"1. If evidence has been obtained by violating a procedural statutory right granted to the accused, the court may exclude the use of such evidence if the court, in its discretion, thinks that admission of such evidence would render the trial unfair.

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