Search Warrants and Property Destruction During a Search

by | May 23, 2008

When police execute a search warrant on a home, the interior of that home is sometimes left unrecognizable. Broken flower pots, ripped-up floor boards and shredded Teddy Bears are some of the pictures that come to my mind when thinking about how police leave a home after a search.

If the search is pursuant to a valid warrant, the law allows law enforcement wide latitude in how much they can disturb or destroy property in the search for contraband. In a case of first impression, the Pennsylvania Superior Court in the recent case of Commonwealth v. Thevenin, 2008 Pa. Super. 96 (May 8, 2008), held that a statement in response to police questioning during the search of a home pursuant to a search warrant that leads to the discovery of the location of contraband during the search, made absent Miranda warnings, does not require the suppression of evidence of the contraband.

In this case, police executed a search warrant on the defendant’s home. When they arrived, the officers told the defendant that they had a warrant and that they “were going to start taking the property apart looking for narcotics until they found some.” Instead of watching his house be torn apart, the defendant told the police officers where to find the illegal drugs they were looking for. The police officers found the drugs and arrested the defendant.

No Miranda warnings were given to the defendant prior to the officers asking where the drugs were located.

The Superior Court stated that, as a matter of policy, they want to encourage police to give people the opportunity to avoid a major disturbance to their home prior to an invasive search pursuant to a warrant. The goal of that policy is to reduce the destruction of property by police. The majority opinion, authored by Judge Klein, also found that while the absence of Miranda warnings may subject statements made by the defendant in response to police questioning while in custody to suppression, the absence of such warnings does not require the suppression of non-testimonial evidence, which was drugs, or physical evidence, in this case. Finally, the court found that the police officer’s statement that they would take the property apart was merely a statement of fact of what they actually were authorized to do by law, rather than a threat.

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