The concepts of reasonable suspicion and probable cause are critical to an understanding of criminal defense especially in cases involving illegal drugs and narcotics. The United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions protect individuals against illegal searches and seizures of their person and property. The concept of a search, however, is often misunderstood and actually goes beyond frisking someone or looking into their bag.
In Pennsylvania, much like other jurisdictions, law enforcement often employ dogs trained to detect drugs. A canine brought to sniff articles of clothing or bags is considered a search under the Pennsylvania Constitution. If police or other law enforcement wants to use dogs, however, they must do so more than with a hunch or a guess that a person or piece of property has drugs. A person has an expectation of privacy and obviously their person but also in their property. The expectation of privacy is essential to any Fourth Amendment claim (claim against illegal search and seizure) because without it a person has no standing to assert such a claim. I have written previous articles on the expectation of privacy and I invite you to read them.
The search of a person’s person is much more intrusive then the search of their property and therefore requires probable cause to believe that a person possesses drugs based on the facts and circumstances surrounding the stop of the individual along with the police officer’s training and experience. Unlike the search a person’s body, however, the search of property only requires a reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is a lower form of probable cause and police therefore do not have to articulate as much of a basis for such a search. Canine searches are not limited just to property like bags but also automobiles and other motor vehicles.
A criminal defense attorney will assert Fourth Amendment claims in a Motion to Suppress Evidence which is often considered one of the strongest criminal defense tools available to a person prior to trial. During a Motion to Suppress Evidence a criminal defense attorney will cross examine the arresting police officer as for the basis of the reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause depending on the nature of the search.