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Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States


Silverthorne was indicted and arrested. While he was being detained, DOJ representatives and the U. S. Marshal went to his corporate office. Without authority, they confiscated and copied his records. The federal trial court held that the officers unconstitutionally obtained the records and ordered their return. Based on the copies, the government obtained a new indictment, and served the defendant a subpoena for the original records.


1. Whether the government can use information obtained from an illegal search and seizure to secure other evidence?

2. Whether the Fourth Amendment protects Corporations against unlawful searches and seizures?


1. No. The government may not use illegally obtained evidence to gain additional evidence.

2. Yes. Corporations are protected by the Fourth Amendment.


Information gained by the government’s unlawful search and seizure may not be used as a basis to subpoena that information. The essence of a rule prohibiting the acquisition of evidence in an illegal way is that it cannot be used at all. This is the “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” doctrine. This doctrine prohibits law enforcement officers from doing indirectly what they are prohibited from doing directly. Also, the Court held that corporations enjoy a right be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.


251 U.S. 385, 40 S. Ct. 182 (1920)

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