Residents of Philadelphia, Chester County, Delaware County, etc. facing drug or gun charges will want to know the chances of going to prison or jail. The answer varies in every case and depends on the facts of each case. Whether it’s a federal or state case, the most common things that affect prison or jail sentences include:
- amount of drugs involved (higher amounts result in longer, sometimes mandatory terms)
- prior convictions (prior drug/gun convictions result in longer terms)
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However, there are multiple ways a gun or drug charge can get dismissed or reduced to a lesser offense. For example, a felony drug possession charge might be reduced to possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor.
Reducing or Dismissing Drug or Gun Charges
In Pennsylvania, criminal charges often get reduced or dismissed before the case ever goes to trial. This can be accomplished at a preliminary hearing, during negotiations/investigation or after a Motion to Suppress.
Under Pennsylvania criminal law, felony cases require a preliminary hearing where the prosecution must show the judge that there’s enough evidence to go forward for each charge. At the hearing, a skilled criminal defense lawyer may be able to convince a judge to drop some of the charges based on lack of evidence. Charges that are dismissed at this stage may be refiled.
Example: Three residents of Delaware County are driving around in a car and get pulled over for a traffic violation. While approaching the car, the officer sees a bag of white powder (which is later field tested as cocaine) on the floor of the back seat. The officer asks the driver for consent to search the car and finds drugs, money and guns with serial numbers scratched out in a backpack in the backseat. The officer asks the three occupants who the bag and content belong to, but no one answers. The officer arrests all three occupants on felony drug and gun charges. At their preliminary hearing, without any additional evidence as to the ownership of the bag of contraband and the bag of cocaine on the floor, there’s a strong argument that the prosecution doesn’t have sufficient evidence to show that each defendant was in possession of the guns and drugs.
During the investigation phase of the case, when both sides prepare evidence, charges may be reduced or dismissed. Oftentimes, evidence may surface showing that the defendant is innocent of some or all of the charges. Presenting exculpatory evidence to the prosecution may result in a reduction of a given charge or outright dismissal of a charge. The key is compiling evidence that shows serious weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.
Let’s use the same example from above and change the facts a little. The driver of the car admits that he was holding the backpack for his friend, but had no idea what was in the bag. The friend was in the car, but was dropped off at a restaurant a few minutes before the car was pulled over. The friend asked the driver to drop the bag off at the friend’s house. The driver has multiple pictures showing the friend holding the bag in various places, including the back seat of the car. One of the other occupants took a selfie the same day showing the friend wearing the backpack on his back. While this evidence isn’t conclusive, it may convince a prosecutor to dismiss or at least reduce some or all of charges to simple misdemeanors with no jail time.
Motions to Suppress Evidence or Statements
In drug and gun cases in Philadelphia, Delco or Chesco, police officers may violate federal or state constitutional law when searching a bag, car or home and seizing contraband like drugs, drug paraphernalia, guns, money, etc. With a successful Motion to Suppress, a defendant may be able to get critical pieces of evidence, like drugs/guns or statements made to law enforcement, thrown out of the case.
Using the same example, let’s say that the police officer who pulled the car over had no legal reason to do so. The officer says that he pulled the car over because the driver ran a red light seconds before he activated his overhead lights. However, one of the occupants of the car happened to be recording a video on her phone in the car while the driver was at the stop light. The video clearly shows the driver stopped at the light. The video would be used to show that the officer made up the traffic violation to pull the car over. As a result, anything found in the car would likely be suppressed, and some or all of the charges would probably be dismissed.
It’s important to note that Pennsylvania search and seizure law is very complex and always changing. Be sure to speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Criminal Defense in Philadelphia, Delaware County, Chester County
Our criminal defense law firm handles drug and gun cases in Philadelphia, Delaware County, Chester County and beyond. Firm founder David Nenner has 30+ years of experience in major felony cases and is recognized as a Top Lawyer in Criminal Defense by Super Lawyers. Contact the firm for a free consultation. (215) 564-0644