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United States v. Ceccolini


The FBI investigated gambling in the defendant’s place of business. A year after the FBI ended its surveillance, a police officer, while taking a break in the defendant’s flower shop, went behind the customer counter to talk to one of the employees of the shop. While behind the counter, the officer saw an envelope that contained money, lying on the drawer of the cash register. The officer picked up the envelope and upon examination, he found it contained money and gambling slips. The officer then placed the envelope back on the register and, without telling the employee what he had found, asked her to whom the envelope belonged. The employee said the envelope belonged to the defendant and that she had instructions to give it to someone. The officer’s finding was reported to local detectives and to the FBI. Four months later, officers interviewed the employee. Six months later, the defendant testified before the grand jury that he had never taken wagers at his flower shop. The employee testified to the contrary, and the government indicted the defendant for perjury


Whether the employee’s testimony was inadmissible as “fruit of the poisonous tree?”


No. The employee’s testimony was admissible as the illegal search was attenuated as to the employee’s statements.


The time lapse between the officer’s illegal search of the envelope and the store clerk’s testimony as to the defendant’s activities was significant. This attenuation was sufficient to evaporate the connection between the illegality and the testimony so as to render the testimony admissible. A substantial period of time elapsed between the illegal search and initial contact with the store clerk who was present at the time of the search. The clerk’s testimony was an act of her own free will and was not coerced or induced by official authority because of the illegal search.


435 U.S. 268, 98 S. Ct. 1054 (1978)

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