Email or Call (215) 564-0644

    Constitutional Rights in Criminal Cases

    David Nenner, Philadelphia PA Criminal Defense LawyerMr. Nenner is a Philadelphia criminal lawyer with over 30 years of experience representing  defendants in major felony matters such as murder, drug dealing, gun possession, etc. His cases have been featured in national and local news, including, ABC, etc. Mr. Nenner is recognized as a “Top Criminal Lawyer in Philadelphia” by Super Lawyers.

    Page last reviewed and updated: August 18, 2020

    Individuals accused of crimes have federal and state constitutional rights. These rights come into play in every criminal matter. This article will focus on federal constitutional rights because the U.S. Constitution or federal constitutional law trumps all state constitutional law. This means that the U.S. Constitution provides bare minimum protections that government agencies like the police are required to follow. States, through their own constitutions, can provide additional protections.

    The following explanations of constitutional law, specifically the 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments, often apply in criminal cases in Pennsylvania.  This article will not discuss other constitutional rights guaranteed by the 1st Amendment (free speech rights), the 7th Amendment (right to a jury trial) or the 8th Amendment (prohibits excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment).

    4th Amendment Right to be Free from Unreasonable Search & Seizure/Arrest

    The 4th Amendment provides: 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.

    4th Amendment issues usually arise in two contexts. First, did the police search a property or person and seize contraband like guns, drugs, or evidence used in a murder investigation? The key is whether a search or seizure was reasonable. There have been literally hundreds of federal cases that discuss what is reasonable when it comes to searches and seizures. Stop and frisk, car searches, searches incident to arrest and consent searches are just some of the most common search issues.

    Second, did the police physically arrest a person, and was that arrest lawful? This is usually an issue in arrests conducted without a warrant, which are allowed so long as the police have probable cause that the individual being arrested committed a crime. Click the link for a discussion on what probable cause is.

    5th Amendment Right to Remain Silent & 6th Amendment Right to Counsel

    The 5th Amendment provides: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

    The 6th Amendment provides: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

    Top Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer

    Defense attorney David Nenner speaks with reporters. Nov. 29, 2017 *Photo credit –

    When an individual is subjected to “custodial interrogation,” police are required to inform the individual about their right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. A custodial interrogation is when a person is being questioned by police after being restrained (i.e., arrested). A person being questioned on the street while not being restrained in any way would not be subject to custodial interrogation.

    When subjected to custodial interrogation, the person being questioned can invoke their right to remain silent. But the law requires an affirmative statement. Staying silent doesn’t count. Read more about invoking the right to remain silent.

    Violation of 5th and 6th Amendment rights typically come up when police continue to question an individual who has asserted his right to remain silent and his right to counsel. For example: Police arrest a Philadelphia resident for murder. At the police station, the police begin an interrogation. The individual states he wants a lawyer and doesn’t want to talk to the detectives. He is then placed in a holding cell. A few hours later, a detective starts questioning the individual again, who then admits to the crime. Here, the individual’s statements to the detective would be suppressed due to violation of the 5th and 6th Amendments.

    Motions to Suppress Evidence & Statements

    When police (or a person acting at the direction of the police) violate an individual’s constitutional rights, a successful Motion to Suppress can result in evidence being thrown out of the case. This means that the prosecution cannot present the suppressed evidence during its case or make any reference to it. In many cases, suppressed evidence can result in dismissal of one or all of the charges. For example, in a murder case with little physical evidence, suppression of a defendant’s statements admitting to the murder can result in dismissal of the case, or increase the chances of success at trial.

    However, it’s important to note that constitutional law is very complex. Suppression of evidence is not always the end result. There are many legal rulings that allow the prosecution to use evidence that was obtained illegally.

    If you are facing criminal charges and believe your constitutional rights were violated, contact our law office immediately. (215) 564-0644

    David S. Nenner

    "Top Rated Criminal Defense Lawyer"


    Mr. Nenner's client was charged with multiple crimes (murder, conspiracy, aggravated assault, robbery, etc.) after a shooting death occurred at a gambling house in North Philadelphia. At trial, Mr. Nenner successfully presented a self-defense argument and convinced...


    Mr. Nenner’s client was charged with murder and gun charges in Philadelphia. The client was accused of shooting and killing another male on Arch Street near the 5600 block of Ithan Street in Philadelphia. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty after deliberating...

    Drug Possession Case – Motion to Suppress Granted

    Mr. Nenner presented evidence that to show that the traffic stop was a pretextual stop. The officer had no reason to pull the car over. The judge agreed and suppressed the evidence. As a result, the prosecution withdrew the charges.

    Attempted Murder Case – Not Guilty Jury Verdict

    Mr. Nenner presented a self-defense argument, and the jury returned a “not guilty” verdict after a 7 day trial in Philadelphia.

    3rd Degree Murder Case – Charges Dismissed for Co-Defendants

    Mr. Nenner represented co-defendants in a shooting death in North Philadelphia. Both cases were ultimately dismissed.

    Philadelphia Murder & Gun Possession Cases Increasing in 2021 – A Look at Common Charges & Defenses

    Common Charges in Philly Murder & Gun Cases The number of criminal cases involving murder and gun possession have skyrocketed in Philadelphia since 2020. Criminal charges often include the following felonies: Murder (1st, 2nd, 3rd Degree)Aggravated...

    Pennsylvania Murder Charges, Deceased Person’s Statements Used to Prove Guilt

    Defense Trial Strategies – Excluding Statements That Accuse the Defendant Prosecutors often look to a deceased individual’s statements made prior to a murder to show that the defendant is guilty. These statements may point to a history of violence between the deceased...

    Pennsylvania (State) Drug Charges, Dog Sniffs & Constitutional Law

    Federal and Pennsylvania state courts treat narcotics dog searches differently. So different that the same scenario could result in different outcomes in federal versus state court. For example, a Philadelphia resident is pulled over for speeding. During the traffic...

    Dog Sniff Searches of Cars in Pennsylvania Traffic Stops (Federal Law)

    Dog or canine searches of cars during traffic stops in PA often lead to drug possession/dealing charges and gun charges. For example, a police officer pulls over a driver for speeding. During the traffic stop, a canine search is performed revealing several bags of...

    Federal Drug Dealing Crime Sentencing Law – Mandatory Minimum Sentences Reduced in Phila. Cases

    On December 21, 2018, federal sentencing laws for drug cases were amended significantly. The First Step Act removed the mandatory life sentence for 3 time drug offenders in high quantity drug dealing cases and also reduced the mandatory minimum sentences for 2nd...