Commonwealth v. Moore – Case Brief Summary (Pennsylvania)

In Commonwealth v. Moore, 2007 PA Super 207, 928 A.2d 1092 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2007), an appellate panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court agreed with the State's claim that the trial court erred in suppressing an inmate's non-privileged incoming and outgoing mail. Id. at 1094.

The court determined that, under both federal and Pennsylvania law, which are coextensive, the defendant did not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the mail. Id. at 1099, 1102.

In its analysis under Pennsylvania law, the court said, id. at 1102:

The policy considerations animating the Commonwealth's issue are basic and quickly discerned: "Although prison walls do not separate inmates from their constitutional rights, because of the unique nature and requirements of the prison setting, imprisonment 'carries with it the circumscription or loss of many significant rights . . . to accommodate a myriad of institutional needs . . chief among which is internal security.'" Payne v. Commonwealth Dept. of Corrections, 582 Pa. 375, 399, 871 A.2d 795, 809 (2005) (quoting Small v. Horn, 554 Pa. 600, 722 A.2d 664, 669-70 (1998)). Prisoners have used the mail to transport contraband into and out of prison, to discuss and participate in ongoing criminal activity, and to coordinate escape plans. See United States v. Solomon, supra , 2007 WL 1099097 (W.D. Pa. 2007) . An unrestricted privacy interest in non-privileged mail would assist criminal objectives by facilitating the transmission of information. See id. On the other hand, prisoners must appreciate the inherent loss of privacy in a prison, where security and surveillance obviate any legitimate expectation of privacy. Id.