In Re: Return of Seized Property of Lackawanna Cty

In late 2016, then-Pennsylvania Attorney General Bruce Beemer petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, pursuant to the Investigating Grand Jury Act, for an order to convene a multicounty investigating grand jury having statewide jurisdiction to investigate organized crime or public corruption or both. This appeal concerned a motion for return of property filed by several Lackawanna County governmental entities (“County”) relative to materials seized by the Office of Attorney General (“OAG”). The OAG seized the County’s property pursuant to search warrants issued by the Supervising Judge of the 41st Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. After the 41st Statewide Investigating Grand Jury was empaneled and an investigation was ongoing, an OAG Special Agent and a Pennsylvania State Trooper applied to Judge Sarcione for four warrants to search and seize certain property belonging to the County. Approximately a year later, the County moved for return of property. Notably, the County filed its motion in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas, which comprised the 45th Judicial District. In its motion, the County advanced a threefold argument to support its claim of entitlement to lawful possession of the seized materials: (1) the underlying search warrants were unconstitutionally general and overbroad; (2) the seizing of judicial and other governmental officials’ property infringed upon various privacy interests and legal privileges; and (3) the search warrants were invalid under Pa.R.Crim.P. 200. Without confirming or denying the existence of a grand jury investigation due to secrecy concerns, the OAG nevertheless challenged the lower court’s jurisdiction to hear the motion for return. The Supreme Court determined that the judge overseeing the Grand Jury, was empowered to issue search warrants in any judicial district, provided that the warrants related to an investigation of the 41st Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. Because there was no dispute the search and seizure warrants for the County’s property related to such an investigation, the supervising judge was authorized to issue them. Further, because the County’s motion for return of property challenged the validity of those search warrants, it related to the work of the 41st Statewide Investigating Grand Jury and had to be presented to the Supervising Judge, who had to adjudicate the motion or conclude it did not raise grand jury secrecy concerns. As the lower court reached the opposite conclusions, the Supreme Court vacated its order and remanded for further proceedings. View "In Re: Return of Seized Property of Lackawanna Cty" on Justia Law