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The Constitutional Validity of a Warrant- Staleness

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A search may be invalidated by "stale" information contained within a search warrant.

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Drug Defense Attorney, Harrisburg, PA 

Generally, for a search warrant to be constitutionally valid, the issuing authority must decide that probable cause exists at the time of its issuance, based upon facts described within the four corners of the supporting affidavit and closely related in time to the date of issuance of the warrant. Thus, an affidavit of probable cause must include facts from which a magistrate can determine the time frame within which the supporting information was acquired, and the search warrant is defective if the issuing authority is not supplied with a time frame upon which to ascertain when the affiant obtained information from an informant and when the informant witnessed the criminal acts detailed in the affidavit of probable cause.  In addition, where an affidavit in support of a search warrant does not supply a time frame as to when an informant obtained information, the affidavit does not provide a sufficient basis for an independent determination by a neutral judicial officer that probable cause existed. 

A Real Life Example...

In Com. v. Schickler, 451 Pa. Super. 415, 679 A.2d 1291 (1996), a search warrant was not improperly based on stale information, notwithstanding the fact that a tip related to drug sales was several months old, where that tip was corroborated by the presence of a strong smell of marijuana outside the defendant's apartment door, a recent tip by an anonymous caller, and a canine alert outside the defendant's apartment door. 

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