A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

Supreme Court PA

By Burt Rose

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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has issued an Opinion in the case of COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Richard Allen JOHNSON, Appellee, 2014 WL 619896, No. 67 MAP 2012 (Feb. 18, 2014).

The Appellee was charged with several drug-related offenses and filed a motion to suppress evidence that had been seized incident to his arrest based, unknowingly, on an expired and thus invalid arrest warrant. The Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, Luzerne County, No. CP–40–CR–0000947–2010, granted that motion, finding that the physical evidence and statements were fruits of an illegal arrest. The court found as a fact that Trooper Knott had acted in good faith in arresting appellee on the basis of what Knott mistakenly believed was an active warrant, but the court reasoned that there is no good faith exception to the exclusionary rule under the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Superior Court affirmed as to suppression of the physical evidence but vacated the order as to the suppression of defendant’s statements. The Commonwealth’s petition for allowance of appeal was granted.

The question before the Court was whether evidence found during a search incident to arrest was admissible at trial underArticle I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution even though the warrant for the arrest was subsequently found to have already been served and thus was no longer valid. The Supreme Court, per Chief Justice Castille, held that the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule would not be adopted for purpose of admitting physical evidence seized incident to arrest based solely on an expired arrest warrant.

The matter turned upon whether the Superior Court had erred in affirming the trial court’s suppression of physical evidence seized incident to an arrest based on an invalid (expired) arrest warrant, where the police officer reasonably and in good faith believed that the arrest warrant was valid. The Court held that the evidence was properly suppressed under Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Supreme Court’s decision in Commonwealth v. Edmunds, 526 Pa. 374, 586 A.2d 887 (Pa.1991) (rejecting federal good faith exception to exclusionary rule in case involving evidence seized pursuant to defective search warrant). The officer’s “good faith” belief that he was arresting appellee on a valid warrant does not defeat the application of the exclusionary remedy recognized by Edmunds.

 

Justices SAYLOREAKIN and BAER and TODD joined the opinion. Justice McCAFFERY filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice STEVENS joined.

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