Pa Search and Seizure Consitutional Law primer

I write today to discuss a recent Pennsylvania appellate court decision that discussed an illegal nighttime raid on a person’s home. The case name is Commonwealth v. Berkheimer, 2012 PA Super 253 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2012). In the case, the Troopers executed a probation detainer (with no apparent basis) on an individual’s home at night. Troopers banged on the front door and pushed it open, and a burned marijuana smell traveled outside. Upon entering the bedroom, a trooper saw drugs, paraphernalia, and a weapon in plain view. A search warrant was thereafter obtained and executed. Defendants sought suppression.

At issue was whether defects in the trooper’s affidavit of probable cause invalidated the subsequent warrant, not purging it of the taint of illegality. The significance of this case is that the court differentiated Pennsylvania and US constitutional jurisprudence regarding night time home searches.

The appellate court concluded that based on the testimony, the troopers actions constituted misconduct within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and an invasion of the defendants’ privacy interest in their home pursuant to Article I, section 8 of the PA Constitution. The emphasized the greater PA constitutional protections as compared to the federal law.

Article I, Section 8 of Pennsylvania’s Constitution provides: The people shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers and possessions from unreasonable searches and seizures, and no warrant to search any place or to seize any person or things shall issue without describing them as nearly as may be, nor without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation subscribed to by the affiant.

The Pa Supreme Court has held expressly that this article is meant to “embody a strong notion of privacy, carefully safeguarded in this Commonwealth for the past two centuries…the paramount concern for privacy first adopted as part of our organic law . . . continues to enjoy the mandate of the people of this Commonwealth”. Thus, “the purpose underlying the exclusionary rule in this Commonwealth is quite distinct from the purpose underlying the exclusionary rule under the 4th Amendment . . . .The United States Supreme Court [has] made clear that, in its view, the sole purpose for the exclusionary rule under the 4th Amendment was to deter police misconduct . . . .” The [Court has] also made clear that, under the Federal Constitution, the exclusionary rule operated as “a judicially created remedy designed to safeguard Fourth Amendment rights generally through its deterrent effect, rather than a personal constitutional right of the party aggrieved.”Id. (quoting United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 906, 104 S. Ct. 3405, 82 L. Ed. 2d 677 (1984)).

By contrast, the analogous rule in Pennsylvania “has consistently served to bolster the twin aims of Article I, Section 8; to-wit, the safeguarding of privacy and the fundamental requirement that warrants shall be issued upon probable cause. The Pa Supreme Court has been adamant in linking a constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy with the need for probable cause embodied in the warrant requirement of Article I, Section 8.

The linch-pin that has been developed to determine whether it is appropriate to issue a search warrant is the test of probable cause. It is designed to protect us from unwarranted and even vindictive incursions upon our privacy. It insulates from dictatorial and tyrannical rule by the state, and preserves the concept of democracy that assures the freedom of its citizens. This concept is second to none in its importance in delineating the dignity of the individual living in a free society. Thus, unlike the exclusionary rule in federal jurisprudence, exclusion of evidence in Pennsylvania does guarantee the substantive rights of our citizens, including the right not to be disturbed in their homes prior to issuance of a warrant upon a good showing of probable cause.

This is a major distinction worthy of this blog.  We live in a commonwealth in which the case law reflects and has preserved centuries old constitutional protections our Commonwealth’s founding fathers fought hard to secure and always cherished.

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