“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
U.S.C.A. Const. Amend. IV-Search and Seizure; Warrants
“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.”
Pa.Const. Art. 1, § 8. Security from searches and seizures
Yes, you absolutely do. Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1 §8 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, you have the constitutional right to be safe and secure in your home and person, free of undue governmental intrusion. In English, this means that if the police want to enter your house, they need probable cause (a pretty darn good reason) and, more often than not, a warrant.
Police need a warrant to gain access to the intimate areas of your life. These include the right to privacy in your house, your person, and many of your items including (but not limited to) your cell phone, your computer, and your luggage. The police will seldom need a warrant to search your car.
The general rule is that a warrantless search is per se unreasonable. This does not automatically mean that if you were searched, it was a constitutional violation. Instead, there are a number of exceptions to the warrant requirement at the state and federal level including (but not limited to): exigent circumstances; a “Terry Stop and Frisk” for officer safety; an inventory search; search incident to arrest; plain view; automobile exception; hot pursuit; and consent.
To get a warrant, the police must fill out an application for such and attach what is known as an “Affidavit of Probable Cause.” This affidavit must be reviewed by an appropriate magistrate and sufficiently demonstrate probable cause with specificity that the target of the warrant will likely be found at the place to be searched.
A breakdown in your right to privacy usually manifests itself in one of two manners: the officer declines to get a warrant, disregards your rights, and unlawfully searches and/or seizes some piece of evidence that he intends to use against you. The other example, is where the officer completes the warrant application and despite it lacking probable cause, the warrant is “rubber stamped” by an allegedly “neutral and detached” magistrate.
In both of these situations, the police have discovered some sort of potentially incriminating evidence against you. They presumably did this with the intent of charging you with a crime and using this evidence against you. Mechanically speaking, you and your attorney may file a challenge to the substandard warrant or lack thereof. This is known as a “Motion to Suppress Evidence.” This motion is filed prior to trial. At a pre-trial evidentiary hearing, you and your attorney may confront the affiant (the person who filled out the warrant) and other appropriate witnesses. If your challenge is successful, the evidence that was obtained in violation of your rights will be “suppressed” and the district attorney will no longer be able to use it against you. This will likely lead to your charges being withdrawn.
SUPPRESSION OF ILLEGALLY OBTAINED EVIDENCE
Just because the police take potentially incriminating evidence from you, does not mean they are automatically allowed to use it against you to prove your guilt. Our state and federal constitutions dictate the exact opposite to be true. The police have a set of rules that they must abide by. The Pittsburgh Criminal Law Group‘s attorneys have significant experience in holding the police to their burden; in forcing them to afford you your constitutional rights. Our attorneys have a track record of getting unlawfully seized evidence suppressed.
PENNSYLVANIA CASES WHERE THE POLICE AND COMMONWEALTH WERE UNABLE TO ESTABLISH PROBABLE CAUSE
Commonwealth v. Dunlap, 941 A.2d 671 (Pa. 2007)
Police were unable to establish probable cause for a search and seizure where the officer observed an exchange between two individuals with no additional facts to indicate it was a sale of illegal substances.
Commonwealth v. Torres, 764 A.2d 532 (Pa. 2001)
Where police received information from multiple anonymous sources concerning three homicides, the court found no probable cause existed to search one of the defendant’s apartments. The anonymous sources were deemed unreliable by the court because the affidavit of probable cause did not expressly set forth the basis of the anonymous source’s information. The court concluded that there was no significant indicator of reliability to support the search and seizure.
Commonwealth v. Banks, 658 A.2d 752 (Pa. 1995)
Probable cause was not established where a police officer observed a street corner exchange of cash for an unknown item and where the defendant fled when a police car approached him. The court found that the “mere exchange of a[n] unknown item on the street corner observed by officer and his flight from the officer did not establish probable cause to justify his warrantless arrest.” The court explained, “Under the Fourth Amendment, we have long held that flight alone does not constitute probable cause for an arrest.”