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Commonwealth v. Hopkins

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

June 30, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellant
v.
LORNE BRETT HOPKINS, JR., Appellee

          SUBMITTED: September 7, 2016

         Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court dated 10/28/15 at No. 2074 MDA 2014 affirming the order of the York County Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, dated 11/6/14 at No. CP-67-CR-0004536-2014

          OPINION IN SUPPORT OF REVERSAL

          SAYLOR CHIEF JUSTICE

         I respectfully differ with any extension of Commonwealth v. Edmunds, 526 Pa. 374, 586 A.2d 887 (1991), to the present circumstances, since I do not believe that a good-faith "exception" to the exclusionary rule is implicated in this matter. Rather, the salient issue, in my view, is whether the search warrant was valid and, thus, whether the exclusionary rule applies in the first instance. As I would find that the warrant was supported by probable cause as constitutionally required - and was therefore valid - I would conclude that the evidence should not have been suppressed.

         Initially, the warrant in Edmunds was invalid because it was facially inadequate to satisfy the probable-cause standard. See Edmunds, 526 Pa. at 382, 586 A.2d at 890-91 ("[W]e concur with the inevitable conclusion of the trial court and the Superior Court, that probable cause did not exist on the face of the warrant."). See generally Pa. Const. art. I, §8 (mandating that all warrants be based on probable cause). Therefore, the Edmunds Court's concern was with the invasion of privacy that would ensue if the fruits of illegal searches could be used against an accused. See Edmunds, 526 Pa. at 402, 586 A.2d at 901 (indicating that "the use of the fruits of illegal searches would only serve to undermine the integrity of the judiciary in this Commonwealth").

         The decision in Commonwealth v. Johnson, 624 Pa. 325, 86 A.3d 182 (2014), was to the same effect. It, too, rejected a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule in the context of a search undertaken pursuant to an expired - and thus invalid - arrest warrant. The search in Johnson, like that in Edmunds, was illegal and, consequently, the exclusionary rule applied. Thus, in Johnson a good-faith exception was rejected on essentially the same basis that it was rejected in Edmunds: Article I, Section 8 is intended to protect privacy and, hence, it prevents the fruits of an illegal search from being used against a defendant regardless of whether the investigating officer reasonably believed he or she was acting properly.

         Importantly, Edmunds did not purport to overlay upon Article I, Section 8 an even stricter regime than that which can reasonably be derived from the provision's text - such that evidence obtained through execution of a valid warrant supported by probable cause must be suppressed if it is later discovered that a private actor misled the police. A rule of this nature is untethered to the Constitution, which simply requires that searches and seizures be reasonable and that warrants only be issued upon a showing of probable cause. See Pa. Const. art. I, §8. Further, such a rule does little to "insulate[ us] from dictatorial and tyrannical rule by the state, " Opinion in Support of Affirmance ("OISA"), slip op. at 10 (quoting Edmunds, 526 Pa. at 398, 586 A.2d at 899, in turn quoting Commonwealth v. Miller, 513 Pa. 118, 127, 518 A.2d 1187, 1191-92 (1986)), since no agent of the government, in such circumstances, has acted improperly.

          In light of the above, the nature of the question here is materially distinct from those which were raised in Edmunds and Johnson: it asks whether a search warrant can be retroactively invalidated - and thus, the search undertaken pursuant to it be deemed illegal - where probable cause appears evident based on the four corners of the officer's affidavit, but the facts on which the officer relied are discovered, in the post-search timeframe, to be false. Since "[t]he linch-pin that has been developed to determine whether it is appropriate to issue a search warrant is the test of probable cause, " Edmunds, 526 Pa. at 398, 586 A.2d at 899, the question, as applied here, is whether the warrant was, in fact, supported by probable cause (and thus valid) notwithstanding that: (a) Shifflet lied to the affiant, Detective Fetrow, and (b) the information from Shifflet which the detective included in his probable-cause affidavit is necessary to a determination that probable cause existed. The answer to this question depends on whether, and under what circumstances, probable cause can be present when it is grounded on material from a third-party source that later turns out to be false.

         There is no requirement that probable cause be based on facts which are true, only on facts which an officer reasonably believes to be true. See Commonwealth v. Jones, 605 Pa. 188, 199, 988 A.2d 649, 655 (2010) ("Probable cause exists where the facts and circumstances within the affiant's knowledge and of which he has reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that a search should be conducted." (quoting Commonwealth v. Thomas, 448 Pa. 42, 52, 292 A.2d 352, 357 (1972))). In Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 98 S.Ct. 2674 (1978), the Supreme Court noted that, although probable cause should be based on truthful information,

[t]his does not mean "truthful" in the sense that every fact recited in the warrant affidavit is necessarily correct, for probable cause may be founded upon hearsay and upon information received from informants, as well as upon information within the affiant's own knowledge that sometimes must be garnered hastily. But surely it is to be "truthful" in the sense that the information put forth is believed or appropriately accepted by the affiant as true.

Id. at 165, 98 S.Ct. at 2681; see also United States v. Carmichael, 489 F.2d 983, 989 (7th Cir. 1973) ("If an agent reasonably believes facts which on their face indicate that a crime has probably been committed, then even if mistaken, he has probable cause[.]"). Thus, the Supreme Court explained, to invalidate a warrant, the defendant must demonstrate that the affiant included a false statement either knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for its truth. See Franks, 438 U.S. at 155-56, 170, 98 S.Ct. at 2676, 2683.

         Notably, this requirement only applies to the affiant, and not the nongovernmental source of the information. See id. at 171, 98 S.Ct. at 2684. Thus, the probable-cause assessment is not undermined where an officer reasonably believes the information obtained from an informant who later turns out to have been lying. In this respect, the Connecticut Supreme Court has explained that

[p]robable cause is determined by objectively considering what is known to the state at the time a warrant is presented to a magistrate; it does not require the accuracy presented by hindsight. Inherent in the concept of probable cause is that the factual basis of a warrant may be inaccurate.

State v. Glenn, 740 A.2d 856, 862 (Conn. 1999). The court suggested that to hold law enforcement to a more exacting standard than reasonable belief in the truth of the third-party's information could "result in a Catch-22 situation" where the police "would be required to conduct virtually a complete investigation and present the magistrate with a confirmed, absolutely true affidavit before a valid warrant could be issued, but such ...


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