Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak T. Goldstein, Esquire

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Adorno, holding that a search warrant is still valid even where the warrant contains incorrect information that has been provided by a third party. In this case, the Court found that the police relied on the information provided by a third party in good faith, so they had probable cause for the warrant. The fact that the information turned out to be wrong did not require suppression of the evidence that they later found.

Commonwealth v. Adorno

In this case, police officers discovered a Facebook Live video that showed a user named “Zay-Yaho” dancing while holding a gun and drugs. They identified the user as the defendant and determined that he had a criminal record which prohibited him from possessing a firearm. The officers learned that he lived at a certain address in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. They interviewed the landlord of the apartment building, and the landlord confirmed that the defendant lived there. The landlord also told them that the location in the video looked like the suspected address. The police then obtained a search warrant for that address. They executed the warrant, and they found three guns and prescription medication.

 The Motion to Suppress

After finding the contraband, the police arrested the defendant. The defense filed a motion to suppress the evidence, and the trial court held a hearing on the motion to suppress. In the motion, the defense alleged that the police conducted as search without probable cause, that the search was based on incorrect information, and that the search exceeded the scope of the search warrant. Essentially, the defendant argued that the evidence should be suppressed because the video did not actually show the location that the police searched. At the hearing on the motion, the officers agreed that there were noticeable differences between the walls and layout of the home that they searched and the home in the Facebook video. Similarly, a friend of the defendant’s testified that the location in the video was her house, not the defendant’s apartment. She had not been aware of the video.

The trial court granted the motion to suppress, finding that police had searched the wrong location because the defendant’s apartment, which was the subject of the warrant, was not the location in the video. The Commonwealth appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

The Superior Court Appeal

On appeal, the Commonwealth argued that the police properly relied on a validly issued search warrant and that the fact that the warrant turned out to contain incorrect information did not render it invalid. The Superior Court agreed. First, the Court found that there was a nexus between the crime and a home that would justify the search of a home because the video showed the gun in a home. Where a defendant commits a crime on the street, police may not have probable cause to search a come because the police cannot just assume a defendant will store evidence of the crime there. But where the crime is committed in a home, the case for searching a home is stronger.

Second, the Court found the warrant to be valid despite the factual error regarding the location depicted in the video. In order for a court to find a search warrant invalid due to a factual error, the defense must show that the police intentionally included false information or included false information with a reckless disregard for the truth. Here, the defense did not even allege that the police had acted in bad faith by either lying or including the information with a reckless disregard for the truth. Accordingly, the defense failed to meet its burden. This type of motion is often called a Franks motion. Here, the defense had argued only that the information was wrong, but showing that a warrant contains incorrect information is not enough to invalidate a warrant.

Therefore, the Superior Court reversed the order granting the motion to suppress. The defendant will have to face trial in the Court of Common Pleas.

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak T. Goldstein, Esquire

If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have successfully obtained full acquittals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, Rape, and Murder. We have also won criminal appeals and PCRAs in state and federal court. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.