Constitutional Rights in Philadelphia Criminal Drug & Gun Cases – The 4th Amendment

The United States Constitution is the single most important law in criminal cases because the amendments guarantee certain inalienable rights. The Constitution applies in both federal criminal cases and state criminal cases, such as drug possession, drug distribution and gun charges.

In Pennsylvania (state) prosecutions, the Pennsylvania Constitution also applies. The Pennsylvania Constitution is virtually the same as the federal one. Under federal law, the U.S. Constitution forms a floor or acts like a minimum requirement in all criminal cases, including criminal cases in Philadelphia.

Three constitutional amendments are often at issue in a Philadelphia criminal case:

  • the 4th Amendment,
  • the 5th Amendment, and
  • the 6th Amendment.

This article will discuss the 4th Amendment only. Stay tuned for articles on the 5th Amendment and 6th Amendment.

More: PA Supreme Court Makes Sweeping Changes to Search-Seizure Law in PA Drug-Gun Cases


The 4th Amendment provides for the:

“right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures, and essentially prohibits the government (i.e., police) from unlawful invasion of an individual’s right to privacy.

Example of the 4th Amendment in a Philadelphia Drug Possession Case

In a criminal case like a gun or drug case in Philadelphia, the 4th Amendment usually comes into play when there is a warrantless search and seizure. For instance, a resident of Philadelphia walking down the street is stopped and frisked for no reason, and the resident objects to being searched. Officers do so anyway and find a packet of cocaine in his pocket. They arrest him for possession of a controlled substance. Because the officers had no reason to stop the individual in the first place, the resulting seizure is illegal or violates the 4th Amendment.

In the subsequent criminal case, the accused person or his attorney would file a Motion to Suppress the Drug Evidence based on the constitutional violation. The court would hold an evidentiary hearing to assess the officer’s testimony and the defendant’s testimony, if offered. Motions to suppress evidence based on constitutional violations almost always boil down to credibility. In other words, is the officer’s version of the events credible?

Oftentimes, it is critical to present evidence supporting the accused individual. This includes the testimony of the accused, testimony of witnesses, and supporting documentation, if relevant to the issues.


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