Drug possession and drug distribution cases are some of the most common types of criminal prosecutions in the Philadelphia area, including the surrounding suburbs, like Delaware County, Chester County, etc. Many residents of Philadelphia who’ve been arrested for drug related charges often want to know whether they have legal grounds to fight their cases. Suppression of evidence is probably the single most important issue in a drug case in Philadelphia. Drug evidence and statements can be suppressed or thrown out of the case if there is sufficient evidence that the government (police officers) violated an accused person’s constitutional rights.
Whether there is a winnable suppression issue in a Philadelphia drug case depends on the facts and circumstances. Credibility of witnesses such as police officers, and if need be, the accused, is often the key at a suppression hearing. Having a lawyer who can conduct effective cross examination of police officers is very important.
Suppression of Drug Evidence – Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
The 4th Amendment, which guarantees freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, is often at issue when it comes to suppression of drug evidence. For example, during an auto stop in Philadelphia, police officers seize drugs and guns from the car. The driver is charged with possession of drugs and illegal possession of a firearm. The drugs and guns may be suppressed or thrown out of the case if police officers had no valid reason to pull the car over in the first place.
Suppression of Statements – Miranda
The 5th Amendment provides protection from self-incrimination, or being compelled to testify against yourself. Miranda warnings must be given after a custodial arrest, i.e., the accused individual is placed in police custody. If an individual is placed in custody and questioned without being given Miranda warnings, any statements made could be suppressed.
Basically, Miranda issues often arise when an individual makes an incriminating statement after being arrested. After Miranda warnings are given, if the arrested individual invokes their right to silence or an attorney, all questioning related to that crime must cease.
5th Amendment Rights in a Drug Trial
Another 5th Amendment issue may arise during trial. Under PA criminal law, someone accused of a crime, like a drug crime, does not have to prove their innocence. Rather, the burden lies solely with the government, which must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the prosecutor cannot use a defendant’s silence against them, even if the defendant decides to testify at trial. In other words, taking the witness stand does not waive the protections of the 5th Amendment.
More: Silence is Golden
Example: You are arrested for drug possession or distribution and you exercise your right to remain silent. At trial, your silence cannot be used as evidence of your guilt, even if you decide to take the witness stand. This principle was discussed in a recent federal court drug appeal case, United States v. Shannon (2014 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals).
About Nenner Law – Phila. Criminal Law Firm
Our law firm focuses on criminal cases in Philadelphia. Firm partner David Nenner has decades of experience handling drug and gun cases. He offers a free consultation. Please call (215) 564-0644.
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