Invalid Arrest Warrant • Good Faith Arrest • Seizure of Evidence • Exclusionary Rule

Commonwealth v. Johnson, PICS Case No. 14-0304 (Pa. Feb. 18, 2014) Castille, C.J. (38 pages).

Where the commonwealth failed to articulate reasons under the Edmunds analysis why individual privacy would not be vindicated by the application of the exclusionary rule in regard to evidence seized in connection with an arrest made in good-faith reliance on an arrest warrant that turned out to be expired, exclusion of the evidence was proper. Affirmed.

The commonwealth appealed from the suppression of evidence of possession of narcotics seized during the arrest of appellee Richard Allen Johnson based on an arrest warrant that later turned out to be expired. Johnson argued that his underlying arrest was unlawful both under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Art. I, §8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and because the seized physical evidence was the fruit of an illegal arrest, it should have been suppressed. Moreover, Johnson cited the instant court’s direct rejection of the federal good faith exception to the exclusionary rule, in Commonwealth v. Edmunds.

In support of its argument, the Commonwealth cited Commonwealth v. Smith, which admitted Mirandized statements secured upon a good-faith arrest for an expired warrant on the basis that the arrest occurred as a result of administrative error rather than an intent to improperly coerce a confession, and the arrest was sufficiently attenuated from the confession. The Commonwealth further argued that the absence of a good faith exception to the exclusionary rule should not lead to exclusion in every case.

The court held that the trial court properly suppressed the seized evidence, finding that the lower courts properly applied Pennsylvania law as established in Edmunds. The court noted that while the federal exclusionary rule is intended to deter improper conduct by the police, while the purpose of the rule under the Pennsylvania constitution is to vindicate the individual’s right to privacy.

The court further noted that the commonwealth did not directly challenge the validity of Edmunds in its argument, and failed to provide any basis under the factors for analysis established in Edmunds that exclusion of the evidence in the case would not serve individual privacy rights. Instead, the court found that application of the exclusionary rule in the instant case would serve both privacy and deterrence interests.