Posted On: December 23, 2009

Superior Court of Pennsylvania Upholds Suppression Order, Holding Pennsylvania Constitution Provides Greater Protections than Federal

The United States Constitution contains what is known as the Bill of Rights; the first ten amendments to the Constitution which provide American citizens with their Fundamental Rights. These amendments alone apply to individuals solely within the confines of the Federal Government and Legal systems. The Fourteenth Amendment then applies those Fundamental Rights, as set forth in the Bill of Rights, to citizens of all individual States. Specifically, State Constitutions cannot provide less protections than that which is provided for by the Federal Constitution; but State Constitutions can provide greater protections.

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently decided an appeal by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in the case of Commonwealth v. Antoszyk. Nolan Antoszyk was arrested and charged, after police obtained information from a confidential informant alleging he had recently been at the home of Antoszyk and witnessed bulk quantities of marijuana for sale. Based on this information, officers wrote and signed an affidavit of Probable Cause and used the affidavit to obtain a search warrant for Antoszyk’s home. Upon conducting the search, police found bulk quantities of marijuana; just as the confidential informant had alleged.

The defense moved to suppress the evidence seized in the search, based upon an argument of illegal search and seizure. At the suppression hearing, the confidential informant was called to testify, upon which he admitted under oath that the information he gave to police was false; although the allegations proved true, the confidential informant had never actually been to the home of the defendant or witness bulk quantities of marijuana for sale.

As the police search warrant cited no independent source of information other than the confidential informant, the trial court granted the suppression Order. On appeal, the Superior Court upheld the ruling, citing Commonwealth v. Edmunds and Commonwealth v. Clark. Under a Federal Constitutional analysis, and based on the case of Herring v. United States, suppression would not have been warranted because the United States Constitution allows for what is known as the “good faith” exception. The good faith exception allows police officers to rely upon a search warrant when they have reason to believe their actions are legal. Here, the officers believed the confidential informant was telling the truth about Nolan Antoszyk, and therefore their actions would have been legal under the Federal Constitution. However, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the State Constitution does not provide for the good faith exception; an added protection to those privacy rights which are already guaranteed by the Federal Constitution. Without this exception, the search warrant which was solely based upon false information was found illegal, despite the fact that the allegations were true, and all of the evidence obtained via the search warrant was suppressed.

Suppression of Evidence
In a criminal trial, the burden is on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. The prosecution builds their case with evidence; some evidence stronger than other. There are rules regarding evidence, both State and Federal, which govern what evidence is admissible and what is not. Often, some or all of the evidence the prosecution wishes to use was obtained illegally, either by police or third party. An experienced criminal defense attorney is an expert in the field of evidence. Upon reviewing a defendant’s case, a criminal defense attorney will determine if some of the evidence can and should be suppressed, and will take the appropriate actions to do so.

If you have been charged with a criminal offense, contact the Law Offices of Marc Neff via phone at (215) 563-9800 or e-mail for a confidential consultation.