Search Warrants; What You Need To Know

There is a knock at your door (or maybe not) and suddenly the police are storming into your house.  They claim they have a search warrant.  What are your rights?  What do you do now?

Police across Pennsylvania and New Jersey execute hundreds of thousands of search warrants each year.  These warrants can be for people, known as "body warrants" or evidence of a crime.  The police may obtain search warrants for houses, apartments, cars or any location that is specified within the warrant that has been approved by a judge or neutral magistrate, assuming there is probable cause to search a particular location.

We are not going to discuss when the police conduct a search without a warrant, which they often do.  That is a discussion for another time.  This article deals with the situation where the police announce "search warrant" or provide you with a copy of the warrant. 

Speaking of a copy of the search warrant, under Pennsylvania law the police must provide you with a copy of the warrant and the affidavit of probable cause that supports it.  Moreover, they must provide you with a list of any items taken or seized during the execution of the warrant.  Demand a copy of the warrant and the affidavit.  The police may only search for items specified in the warrant, and more importantly, they may only search in areas where it is reasonable they may find the items they are looking for.  Thus, if they are looking for a stolen car they cannot search your bedroom closet.

Furthermore, Pennsylvania has adopted the "knock and announce" rule for search warrants.  Police must first knock, identify themselves and their purpose, prior to entry into a home, even with a valid search warrant.  An illegal entry can result in evidence seized being thrown out by a trial court.

If the police have searched your home, apartment or car, with or without a warrant, you need a lawyer who knows the law and will fight to protect your rights.  The lawyers at Scarpello & LaTour have won hundreds of motions to suppress in which they have challenged police search warrants.  Getting such evidence dismissed often leads to a not guilty verdict or even a dismissal of all criminal charges.  Contact our office today to understand and protect your rights.


Eyewitness Identification: How reliable is it?

     The most important issue in any criminal case is identifying the person who committed the crime. Prosecutors must prove not only that a crime was committed, but also that the defendant is the one who committed it.  The identity of the criminal, like all other elements in the government’s case, must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. 

     The one question I ask juries in every case is, “Do you find the identification evidence reliable?”  A person’s ability to make an identification can depend on numerous factors.  How long did the witness view the person?  What were the lighting conditions?  Was the person’s face covered by a mask or hood? Was there a delay between the crime and the identification?

     When there is a delay between the crime and the identification, it is important to know what description the witness gives to police. How tall was he? What did he weigh?  What was he wearing? This is the information the police use to try to find the criminal. Does the witness’ description match the person that was arrested?

     When police are involved in identification procedures, they have great influence over who gets picked and who doesn’t. Post-incident identifications by witnesses are often suggestive by nature.  Witnesses are shown suspects who are handcuffed and in police custody, followed by a leading question, “Is this the guy who robbed you?”

       The law in Pennsylvania recognizes that a witness to a crime can sometimes make a mistake when identifying the criminal. If certain factors are present, the judge will instruct the jury to “consider with caution” a witness’ testimony identifying the person who committed the crime. These factors include a poor opportunity to observe the criminal; if the witness testifies that he is not positive as to identity or hedges or qualifies his identification; and/or if the witness identifies someone other than the defendant in another identification procedure like a line-up or photo-spread.   

     The attorneys at Scarpello & LaTour are experienced courtroom litigators and former Philadelphia prosecutors.  If you have been charged with a crime that you didn’t commit contact our attorneys for a free consultation about your case.  You only get one chance to defend yourself in a criminal case.  Choose Philly’s best defense. Let our attorneys fight for you.