A Washington County judge that once presided over the county's Drug Court program was charged with theft and possession of cocaine. It is alleged that the judge had requested that the police leave drug evidence in his chambers, and the police believe that the judge was stealing the cocaine and, at times, replacing it with baking soda. The police conducted a search of the judge's chambers, and drugs and other evidence were found that the prosecution intends to use at the judge's upcoming drug possession trial. The former judge hired prominent Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer Robert DelGreco, and Attorney DelGreco filed a motion to suppress the evidence because the police had not obtained a search warrant for the judge's chambers but instead were searching pursuant to an administrative order issued by the President Judge of the county.
Searches Generally Require Warrants Issued Based Upon Probable Cause
Everyone knows that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution generally requires that the police obtain a warrant that was issued based upon probable cause before conducting a search. Over the years, courts have created exceptions to the warrant requirement, such as consent, exigent circumstances, and Pennsylvania recently accepted the Federal-law created automobile exception. If a warrantless search is conducted and an exception to the warrant requirement is not applicable, then the legal remedy is that all evidence found as a result of the illegal search is suppressed.
It is somewhat troubling that law enforcement would not have sought a warrant in this case to ensure that they were not violating the judge's rights. While the judge is no more important than the average person, of all people that are aware of their legal rights, it would be a judge. So if the police are investigating a judge, you would think that they would go above and beyond to make sure that the investigation was conducted in strict accordance with the constitutional requirements. Here, by taking what appears to have been an investigatory shortcut, it may result in the suppression of evidence and dismissal of a high profile case.
Hasty Police Action Results in Suppression of Evidence
A few years ago, I represented a Penn State student that resided in the Penn Towers apartment building in State College. The police smelled the odor of marijuana coming from the apartment. The police knew that my client had a backdoor, so the two police went to the front door while another two went to the backdoor. When the two police knocked on the front door, my client decided to exit the backdoor. When my client exited, he saw two uniformed officers, so he chose to go back into his apartment. All this was lawful. The problem was that the police at the backdoor then made a warrantless entry into the apartment, did a quick search of the entire apartment, and then got a search warrant to completely search the apartment. The odor of marijuana was sufficient probable cause to get a search warrant initially. Because of the warrantless entry, I filed a pretrial motion to suppress, and the Bellefonte judge granted suppression of all evidence and dismissed the State College drug possession charges. With the case being dismissed, I could then have the misdemeanor charges expunged from my client's criminal record. Cases like this are great examples of why it so importance that any person charged with a criminal offense contacts an experienced criminal defense attorney to review the case and provide representation.