Commonwealth v. Edmunds




Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Citation and Year

586 A.2d 887 (1991)

Constitutional Provision or State Statute

Penn. Const., art. 1, § 8 (“The people shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers and possessions from unreasonable searches and seizures, and no warrant to search any place or to seize any person or things shall issue without describing them as nearly as may be, nor without probable cause …”)

Nature of Case

Police seized marijuana pursuant to a search warrant that was based on two anonymous informants. The trial judge held that the search warrant failed to establish probable cause that the marijuana would be at the location to be searched, and failed to specify the date upon which the anonymous informants observed the marijuana. Yet the trial court allowed the marijuana into evidence, reasoning that the officers who conducted the search were acting in “good faith” that the warrant provided probable cause.

On appeal, the issue was whether Pennsylvania should adopt the “good faith” exception to the exclusionary rule as articulated by the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Leon.


The federal Fourth Amendment’s “good faith exception” to the exclusionary rule does not apply under Pennsylvania’s state constitution.


This remains the key precedent guiding Pennsylvania courts on whether they should depart from federal precedent and independently apply the state constitution. These so-called “Edmunds factors” include: (a) text; (b) history; (c) related case law from other states; (d) state policy considerations.

Applying those factors here, the court found little significance in the textual similarities between the Fourth Amendment and Pennsylvania’s constitution, especially since the state’s constitutional history favored broader protection: “constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures existed in Pennsylvania more than a decade before the adoption of the federal Constitution, and fifteen years prior to the promulgation of the Fourth Amendment.” The “history of Article I, Section 8,” the court said, “indicates that the purpose underlying the exclusionary rule in this Commonwealth is quite distinct from the purpose underlying the exclusionary rule under the 4th Amendment.”

Next, the court observed that, “the highest courts of at least four states New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Connecticut have chosen to reject the ‘good-faith’ exception under their own constitutions, with more detailed analysis of state constitutional principles.” The court found these cases persuasive. Finally, the court noted that rejecting the good-faith exception accords with state policy, including strict adherence to probable cause: “We have specifically adopted Rule 2003 for the purpose of confining the probable cause inquiry to the written affidavit and warrant, in order to avoid any doubt as to the basis for probable cause. We decline to undermine the clear mandate of these provisions by slavishly adhering to federal precedent where it diverges from two hundred years of our own constitutional jurisprudence.”