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DAVID CLARK
Criminal Defense Attorney

Constitutional Issues in Pennsylvania Criminal Cases

There are many constitutional problems that could arise in a criminal case. Some examples of constitutional issues that may come up in Pennsylvania criminal cases are related to the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments. If your constitutional rights have been violated, your case could be thrown out or certain evidence may not be admissible.

Read below to learn more about constitutional issues in Pennsylvania criminal cases. And if you are facing charges, get in touch with an experienced criminal lawyer.

Fourth Amendment Rights

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that an individual’s home, vehicle, or person cannot legally be searched without probable cause or a warrant. A Fourth Amendment violation could happen in many criminal cases, especially drug cases. For example, an officer may illegally search a person’s vehicle without consent to try to find evidence of drugs. If they do find drugs but did not have probable cause to search the vehicle, then that evidence will not be admissible in court. The Fourth Amendment is important and determined on the nuances of the law and the nuances of the facts related to each person’s individual case.

Fifth Amendment Issues

The Fifth Amendment gives people the right to not incriminate oneself. The Fifth Amendment issues pertain to whether someone was Mirandized, whether someone’s statement was taken without proper warning, and whether they were under arrest and coerced into giving a statement. Suppressing a statement that admits wrongdoing or guilt, but was wrongfully obtained, could have a huge outcome on a case. In cases like DUIs in which maybe the officer did not see anyone driving, arrests a few people, and asks who was driving, someone might make a statement pointing towards their own guilt, but they were never advised of their right not to. That could be a determining legal issue in that case and a criminal defense attorney could help evaluate the case.

Sixth Amendment Protections

The Sixth Amendment relates to the rights of criminal prosecutions. The Sixth Amendment gives defendants the right to a speedy and public trial, the right to legal counsel, the right to an impartial jury, and the right to know who their accusers are.

Constitution says witnesses have to testify against the individual they are accusing. That is a significant issue in preliminary hearings as Pennsylvania has preliminary hearings and attorneys do not see many of the actual witnesses. They see summaries from other witnesses, such as police officers. Criminal defense lawyers are challenging the constitutionality of this practice. At the trial, the right witnesses have to be there. It is up to the lawyer to know the right people that need to be present for the prosecution to have enough evidence to convict the defendant. The defendant should be found not guilty under the law if the only evidence against them is hearsay, which is barred by the Sixth Amendment.

How Could Constitutional Issues Impact a Case?

Constitutional issues in Pennsylvania criminal cases could significantly impact a case. A constitutional violation could decide the outcome of the case. A motion to suppress physical evidence, such as a gun or narcotics, could erase all the charges if that is the only issue in the case, whether or not the defendant possessed something that was illegal for them to own. In addition, the district attorney’s case could be weakened if a statement pointing towards guilt is suppressed or a witness is not present and needs to be. This could have a huge effect on the district attorney’s ability to put together a case. The opposing attorney would litigate those issues and know how to dismantle their case piece by piece.