WASHINGTON, April 21 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether the "fruit of a poisoned tree" is always itself poisonous to the Constitution.
In a one-paragraph order, the justices indicated they would hear argument next term on whether physical evidence obtained from a suspect's voluntary statement must be suppressed if the statement was made before the suspect was issued Miranda warnings.
Under the Supreme Court's 1966 decision in Miranda vs. Arizona, all criminal suspects must be warned of their right to remain silent and their right to a lawyer before police interrogation.
The Bush administration is arguing that prosecutors should have the right to use voluntary statements in any way they choose, even if the statements were made before a suspect was advised of Miranda rights.
The case which brought Monday's action began in June 2001 in Colorado.
Officer Tracy Fox of the Colorado Springs Police Department arrested Samuel Francis Patane outside his residence on a charge of violating a domestic violence restraining warrant.
But Fox wasn't the only police officer present. Detective Josh Benner, part of a federal-local task force, had been told by a probation officer that Patane was a convicted felon who illegally possessed a Glock .40-caliber pistol. Benner was also on hand for the arrest.
The detective began reading Patane his Miranda warnings, court records said, but the suspect interrupted by saying he knew his rights. At that point, both sides agree, Benner stopped reading the Miranda warnings.
Patane admitted to Benner that he owned the Glock and gave the detective permission to enter the residence and seize the weapon.
But at a pre-trial hearing, a federal judge granted a motion by Patane's lawyer to have the firearm evidence suppressed, ruling that the officers lacked probable cause to arrest the suspect for violating a domestic violence restraining order.
A federal appeals court reversed the judge on the probable cause issue. However, the appeals court upheld the suppression of the weapon on different grounds. The weapon was seized as the "fruit" of a statement made without a Miranda warning, the appeals court ruled, and the evidence was therefore tainted.
The Supreme Court has sometimes "declined to apply the fruits of a poisonous tree doctrine" to suppress evidence obtained from an un-Mirandized confession, the appeals court acknowledged.
But the appeals court said the Supreme Court's ruling in 2000's Dickerson vs. the United States -- in which a majority of the justices said that the original Miranda decision was a constitutional rule that could not be overturned by Congress -- "undermined the logic" of those earlier, more permissive decisions.
The Justice Department then asked the Supreme Court for review.
A brief written by U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson told the justices that Supreme Court precedent in 1974's Michigan vs. Tucker and 1985's Oregon vs. Elstad "held that fruits of unwarned statements were admissible." The 2000 ruling in Dickerson "expressly relied on the continuing validity of that principle, and it specifically rejected the contention that a broad fruits rule ... should be applied in cases in which law enforcement agents fail to give a suspect Miranda warnings."
Though not yet scheduled, the Supreme Court should hear the Patane case sometime next fall.
(No. 02-1182, USA vs. Samuel Francis Patane.)