Drug dealing and possession charges in Philadelphia can be fought successfully. One of the most critical questions in these cases is whether law enforcement committed any constitutional violations that might result in evidence being thrown out. When evidence like drugs or drug paraphernalia are thrown out of the case, charges are often dismissed.
Motions to suppress evidence are routinely filed in drug possession or drug dealing cases in Philadelphia, especially those involving searches of cars during a traffic stop. These motions can also be filed in other situations, such as when an officer stops an individual on the street and searches his or her belongings.
Law enforcement officers often stop people on the streets or in cars based on race. Racial profiling is a large factor in getting stopped. Also, officers often conduct stops based on hunches and will justify stops based on very minor traffic infractions, like jaywalking or failing to maintain a car in a traffic lane.
While an officer has the legal right to stop an individual for these kinds of minor infractions, an officer may not prolong the stop longer than reasonably necessary to issue a ticket or summons. If an officer prolongs a stop without additional justification, any contraband found and seized may be suppressed.
For example, a woman in West Philadelphia is walking down the street in the evening. She crosses the street in the center of the block, clearly outside of a crosswalk. A nearby officer stops her and tells her that he witnessed her jaywalking and that next time he sees her jaywalking, he’ll give her a ticket. He lets her go. Based on the woman’s nervous appearance, he follows her as she hurries down the block. When she gets to the end of the street, she waits for the pedestrian signal. The officer stops her and says, “Stop, I’d like to ask you some questions.” He asks her where she’s going and whether she has anything in her bag. When she doesn’t answer, the officer grabs her bag and finds multiple bags of heroin.
Here, the heroin is likely to be suppressed because the officer had no basis to detain the woman after he let her go for jaywalking. When he told her to stop, he legally stopped her and had to have some legal basis for doing so, i.e., smelled drugs or saw something illegal in plain sight in her pocket or poking out of her bag. Simply having a hunch about her and noticing that she seemed nervous aren’t enough.
Related: Traffic Stops, When Can Police Stop a Car in Philadelphia? [Learn about the different types of stops: encounter, investigative detention and custodial detention.]
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