This appeal presents a unique question: Can a court of equity enjoin officers of the Commonwealth from using evidence seized pursuant to a search warrant in criminal proceedings within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or from sending such evidence to authorities in other states? For the reasons hereafter stated, we find that the lower court had no jurisdiction to decide this question and reverse the decree entered below.
Prior to discussing the law involved, a short summation of the facts in this case is necessary. On February 24, 1976, a search warrant was executed for the premises of a company in Pittsburgh known as J. Marcus Wholesalers, Inc. The affiant for the warrant was Robert Swanson, an Assistant District Attorney of Denver County, Colorado, and a defendant in the present action. Guy Diulus, a detective in the Pittsburgh police department and another defendant in this case, was the law enforcement officer who executed the warrant and seized the evidence discovered during the search. The affidavit in the search warrant disclosed that the District Attorney's Office in Denver had conducted an investigation into the sale of imitation perfume in January, 1976; the investigation revealed that certain stores in the Denver area
A search of the premises revealed various records, documents, and other items including perfume in apparently counterfeit containers and wrappings that connected J. Marcus Wholesalers, Inc., with the illegal transactions in Denver. The evidence was seized and held by the Pittsburgh Police. Seventeen days later, on March 12, 1976, plaintiffs, J. Marcus Wholesalers, Inc., and its owners, Joseph Marcus and Jack Marcus, filed a petition for declaratory judgment and a complaint for an injunction in the equity division of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. No charges had at that time been formally made against the owners of J. Marcus Wholesalers, Inc. The petition for declaratory judgment and the complaint for injunction were both amended a few days later. The plaintiffs requested the court to find that the search and seizure conducted by the defendants, authorities of the city of Pittsburgh and county of Allegheny as well as the authorities from Denver, was unlawful and plaintiffs prayed that these public officers be enjoined
After accepting jurisdiction, the court below went on to hold that the search warrant procedure employed by the defendants was excessively harsh and that instead of a search warrant, the defendants should have used a subpoena duces tecum to obtain the evidence they desired. According to the lower court, the less onerous subpoena duces tecum procedure was available to the authorities from Colorado under the Uniform Act To Secure Attendance of Witnesses, act of June 23, 1941, P.L. 147, 19 P.S. § 622.1 et seq. (1964).
Because we do not initially agree with the lower court's taking of jurisdiction in this case, we will not address ourselves to the merits of the search warrant versus subpoena duces tecum issue. Nevertheless, we will take this opportunity to express concern over the question of whether the Uniform Act To Secure the Attendance of Witnesses applies to the production of physical evidence.
A court has the inherent power to determine on its own motion whether it has the jurisdiction to decide the cause before it. Douglas v. City of Jeannette, 319 U.S. 157, 63 S.Ct. 877, 87 L.Ed. 1324 (1943); Harris-Walsh, Inc. v. Dickson City Borough, 420 Pa. 259, 216 A.2d 329 (1966). Therefore, even if a party fails to raise this issue by objection or exception in the court below, it is still the affirmative duty of our Court to consider the issue of subject matter jurisdiction.
Blackstone's definition of equity was "the correction of that wherein the law (by reason of its universality) is deficient." Everett v. Harron, 380 Pa. 123, 130, 119 A.2d 383,
In Cooper v. McDermott, 399 Pa. 160, 159 A.2d 486 (1960) plaintiffs in California brought suit against the District Attorney's Office in Philadelphia to enjoin its attempt to extradite them. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in holding that the court in equity had no jurisdiction in the criminal matter stated:
Again in Cathcart v. Crumlish, supra, the Supreme Court held that equity had no jurisdiction to enjoin a district attorney from subpoenaing a witness where the witness could test the validity of the subpoena in the criminal courts. Merrick v. Jennings, 446 Pa. 489, 288 A.2d 523 (1972) and Sexton v. Stine, 456 Pa. 301, 319 A.2d 666 (1974) also present cases where the Supreme Court found that jurisdiction in equity was lacking because the plaintiffs had an adequate remedy at law. As the Supreme Court so appropriately stated in Meadville Park Theatre Corp. v. Mook, 327 Pa. 21, 24, 10 A.2d 437, 439 (1940):
Although normally equity will not interfere in criminal matters, the courts of equity have in certain well-defined situations exercised their jurisdiction to enjoin criminal proceedings. For example, equity will act to enjoin criminal proceedings when: "(1) The available legal remedy will cause a multiplicity of suits . . . or, (2) The statute or ordinance in question is unconstitutional and void (either per se or as it applies to the party seeking the injunction), and its enforcement will cause the plaintiff irreparable loss to his property." Pa. Soc'y For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. Bravo Enterprises, Inc., 428 Pa. 350, 356-57, 237 A.2d 342, 346 (1968). In the present case, however, there is no threat of a multiplicity of suits if plaintiffs are prosecuted; nor is there any allegation that an unconstitutional law is being enforced.
Equity has also intervened when property rights have been threatened by criminal proceedings and the plaintiff had no remedy in the criminal courts. In Kingsley International Pictures Corp. v. Blanc, 396 Pa. 448, 153 A.2d 243 (1959), the District Attorney threatened to prosecute certain theatre owners for exhibiting an allegedly obscene film. Consequently, the owners refused to show the film and plaintiff, the distributor of the film, brought suit in equity to enjoin the District Attorney from enforcing what plaintiff considered to be an unconstitutional obscenity statute. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that because plaintiff would not have been a party to the threatened criminal proceedings, no remedy at law was available to challenge the statute. Therefore, equity was properly invoked to provide relief to the plaintiff.
The Federal Courts have also entertained equity jurisdiction under certain specific circumstances. The United States Supreme Court has held that Federal courts could
Courts have been hesitant to enjoin criminal proceedings that have been commenced in other jurisdictions. For example, in Smith v. Katzenbach, 122 U.S.App.D.C. 113, 351 F.2d 810 (1965), the Court in the District of Columbia would not in equity enjoin Federal tax agents in North Carolina from using certain evidence. Similarly, in Appeal of Kitzer, 369 F.2d 677 (7th Cir. 1966), a Federal Court in Illinois held that it had no jurisdiction to dismiss an indictment or suppress evidence in a criminal proceeding in Minnesota even though the charges were based on evidence received from Illinois.
Courts also have generally refused to enjoin persons under its own jurisdiction from assisting criminal prosecutions in other jurisdictions. In Steiner v. Hocke, 272 F.2d 384 (9th Cir. 1959), plaintiff in California was indicted in Michigan for mailing obscene literature. Before he was extradited he attempted in Federal Court in California to enjoin the United States Marshall there from removing him. The Court refused holding that equity will not intervene in criminal prosecutions even though plaintiff would be subjected to great inconvenience by being forced to defend himself in Michigan. Weiner v. Kelly, 82 So.2d 155 (Fla. 1955) is another case similar in some ways to the present appeal. In Weiner, certain evidence seized by state authorities in Florida was suppressed by the Florida state court because of a defective
In summary, the general rule is that courts of equity will decline jurisdiction in criminal matters except in rare cases, such as Rea v. United States, supra, and Kingsley International Pictures Corp. v. Blanc, supra, where there exists no adequate remedy at law. In the present case, however, we find that there is an adequate remedy at law in our Rules of Criminal Procedure and therefore it was not necessary for plaintiffs to invoke equity's jurisdiction.
Because plaintiffs were not defendants in a criminal proceeding in Pennsylvania at the time they filed their action in equity, Pa.R.Crim.P. 323 on suppression of evidence was not available to them.
We are convinced that plaintiffs as persons aggrieved by a search and seizure could have filed a petition under Rule 324 for the return of their property.
Plaintiffs argue that the Rules of Criminal Procedure are not applicable because no "criminal proceedings," see Pa.R.Crim.P. 1(a), or "actions for the enforcement of the Penal Laws," see Pa.R.Crim.P. 3(f), have been commenced against them. If we take a restrictive view of "criminal proceedings", plaintiffs would be correct because they have yet to be charged with a crime by complaint, indictment or otherwise. However, we interpret the Rules of Criminal Procedure to apply to all criminal proceedings even though an accused has not been formally charged with a crime by a complaint or an indictment. In Commonwealth v. Landy, ___ Pa. ___, 362 A.2d 999 (filed April 22, 1976), defendant was no longer involved in a criminal case because the indictments against
Because the criminal courts of this Commonwealth had the power pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 324 to prevent the use of unlawfully seized evidence against a non-defendant, we hold that the court below did not have the equity jurisdiction to enjoin the actions of the authorities involved.
The motion to quash is denied, the decree of the lower court is reversed and the complaint in equity for injunctive relief and for a declaratory judgment is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.