Staying Updated in Criminal Law

Criminal Law is not a fixed concept. The law is always changing based on decisions reached by the courts. At Musi, Merkins, Daubenberger & Clark, LLP, you can be sure that we are up to date on the all of the latest changes in law. Below is a list of case updates that have significantly impacted criminal law in the last several years.

Nanny Cameras – Commonwealth v. Mason

  • A Defendant who is recorded committing an alleged criminal act on a nanny camera does not violate the Wiretap Act, and the video can be used in court. The courts have found the Defendant has no expectation of privacy in someone else’s home, unless the Defendant can show they did have an expectation of privacy. For example, if the Defendant can show proof that they lived in the home, they would have an expectation of privacy.

Odor of Marijuana – Commonwealth v. Barr

  • The odor of marijuana alone can no longer be used to used as probable cause to search a vehicle without a search warrant. As the law has changed and accessibility to medical marijuana has grown, the law has changed to keep up. Marijuana odor alone is not enough for probable cause to search a vehicle, because the individuals inside may have a lawful right to be in possession of marijuana.

Officers Mistaken Belief – Commonwealth v. Tillery

  • Under Federal protections, a police officer can make a mistake concerning the legality of an action, and as long as the mistake was made in “good faith”, any evidence procured from the mistake can be used against a Defendant. In Pennsylvania, “good faith” is not good enough. 
  • If a police officer detains or arrests someone based off a mistaken belief of what constitutes a crime, any evidence seized from that individual is not admissible in court. For example, in this case a person was detained for not using their turn signal to turn into a parking spot. That is not a violation of the vehicle code. During a search of the vehicle evidence of a drug crime was found. The Court found that the evidence was not admissible.

Length of Investigatory Detention – Commonwealth v. Malloy

  • Twenty (20) minutes exceeds the time a police officer may use during an investigatory detention. In this case, police officers took over twenty minutes to determine if an individuals concealed carry firearm license has expired.

Mere Encounter v. Investigative Detention- Commonwealth v. Rohrbach

  • The difference between a mere encounter with police and an investigative detention can make all the difference on what is and is not admissible in court. The key difference is during a mere encounter, and individual is free to leave. During an investigative detention, the individual is not free to leave. In the Commonwealth v. Rohrbach, the Court found that an officer honking his horn at an individual attempting to pull out of a parking lot was not free to go. Because they did not have to required requisites to initial an investigative detention, all evidence seized from the stop of the vehicle was inadmissible.

Someone Else Did the Crime – Commonwealth v. Yale

  • A common defense in the criminal justice system is that another individual was the perpetrator of the crime. This is called SODDI or “Some Other Dude Did It” defense.  In these situations, defendants are often frustrated that they are not allowed to introduce evidence that points to someone’s culpability. In the Commonwealth v. Yale, the court addressed these concerns, stating that only the defendant is on trial, and to admit evidence of someone else’s guilt would amount to having a trial in a trial.