February 1, 2021 By Matthew Wallin

May the Police Enter a Vehicle After a Traffic Stop?

The Fourth Amendment protects a car’s interior as a whole from unreasonable intrusions by the police. A police officer’s physical intrusion into the interior of a car constitutes a “search” under the Fourth Amendment.

What Happens if the Police Conduct an Unlawful Search?

The Exclusionary Rule


The exclusionary rule generally applies in Fourth Amendment cases requiring courts to suppress any evidence obtained as a “direct result of an illegal search or seizure,” as well as “evidence later discovered and found to be derivative of an illegality.” The latter is often referred to as the “fruit of the poisonous tree.” Under the exclusionary rule, any evidence found as a result of an illegal search may not be used against the defendant in court.


In a recent case, United States v. Ngumezi, the Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals granted a defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence where the defendant argued that it was unlawful for a police officer to open his car door and lean into the car following a traffic stop. In this case, the defendant sought to suppress evidence of a gun found under his seat. The officer did not see the gun when he unlawfully leaned into the defendant’s car. Rather, the officer located the gun in the subsequent vehicle search, which was conducted because Ngumezi was driving with a suspended license and required that his car be impounded. Ngumezi argued that the discovery of the evidence was unlawful under the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine.

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The “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” Doctrine


“Fruit of the poisonous tree” is a legal metaphor used to describe derivative evidence that is obtained illegally. The idea is that if the source of the evidence is tainted, then anything gained from the source is tainted as well. The “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine does not require a particularly tight causal chain between the illegal search and the discovery of the suppressed evidence. The government has the burden to show the evidence is not “the fruit of the poisonous tree.”


In Ngumezi, the court doubted whether there was really a causal chain between the illegal search and the subsequent vehicle search. However, the government failed to argue against this point and therefore did not meet their burden to prove the evidence was not linked to the causal chain. Thus, the court determined Ngumezi was entitled to exclusion of the evidence discovered as a result of a Fourth Amendment violation.


Contact Wallin & Klarich Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Here at Wallin & Klarich, our criminal defense attorneys will be there to answer your questions regarding whether your search or seizure was lawful under the law. Our attorneys are trained to see and view all angles in assessing a situation to ensure that your constitutional rights are protected. If you think you have been wrongfully accused of committing a crime, Wallin & Klarich can provide you with the legal representation you need. 

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, West Covina, Torrance, and Victorville, there is an experienced and skilled Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you are located.

Contact our offices today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (714) 587-4279 for a free, no-obligation phone consultation. We will be there when you call.


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