In Philadelphia criminal defense cases, whether it is a homicide case, weapons case or a drug related case, the prosecution has the burden to prove that the defendant committed the crime. As such, the prosecution has to provide evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt, i.e., a weapon, eye witness testimony, drugs or other types of evidence.
However, sometimes the prosecution’s evidence may be inadmissible. What may seem like a strong case for the prosecution may turn out to be dismissed because the evidence is inadmissible.
Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
A legal doctrine that is often associated with inadmissible evidence is the fruit of the poisonous tree. Essentially, the doctrine makes evidence inadmissible if the evidence was illegally obtained. Here’s is an example of how evidence may be inadmissible.
Illegal Warrantless Vehicle Search Hypothetical
A police officer pulls over a car for failing to stop at a stop sign at an intersection in Philadelphia. As the police officer approaches the car, he hears loud music coming from the car. The police officer asks the driver for his license and car registration. The driver answers with a snide comment and gives the officer his license and registration. As the officer is looking over the documents, the driver comments to himself that he shouldn’t have been pulled over and says several profanities. The officer doesn’t like the driver’s attitude and demeanor and asks the driver to exit the vehicle. The officer then proceeds to search the car. He opens up the glove compartment and finds several bags of drugs. He then opens up the trunk and finds money, guns and a backpack filled with marijuana and heroin. As a result, the driver is arrested and charged with possession of drugs, possession with intent to deliver and other weapons charges.
Although there is ample evidence to convict the defendant on drug related charges, the case would likely be dismissed. The police officer conducted an illegal search of the defendant’s car. In order for a police officer to conduct a warrantless search, there must be probable cause.
Related: Major Changes in Pennsylvania Search-Seizure Law, Drug/Gun Cases
Probable cause exists if there are sufficient facts that would lead the police officer to believe that evidence of crime would be found in the car. Whether facts are sufficient depends on the circumstances.
In the above hypothetical, there are no facts that would support probable cause. The stop was a routine traffic stop. The only reason the officer asked the driver to exit the vehicle and searched the car was because he didn’t like his demeanor. That is not enough for probable cause.
In such a case, the defendant’s lawyer would file a Motion to Suppress the evidence found in the search arguing that the warrantless search of the vehicle was illegal, i.e., the poisonous tree, and any evidence (drugs, money and weapons) found from the illegal search, i.e., fruit of the poisonous tree, is not admissible.
Using the same hypothetical, what facts would support a finding of probable cause to search the car? Here are some circumstances that would render the search legal:
- the office smelled marijuana coming from the car,
- the driver’s eyes looked glazed over,
- the officer saw the driver throw something out the window as he was pulling over,
- the officer saw the driver make sudden movements in the car as if he was hiding something, and
- the driver was driving through a part of Philadelphia known for high drug crimes.
Help After Being Charged with Drug Related Crimes
If you or a loved one was arrested and charged with drug related crimes, it is best to talk to an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer. Even though there may be evidence against the defendant, the case may be dismissed if the evidence was procured illegally.
Mr. Nenner is a top rated Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer. He has tried countless criminal defense cases over the last 30 years. He has handled numerous high profile criminal cases, and has been featured in national and local media. Most recently, he was featured in Philadelphia Daily News. Mr. Nenner’s client was wrongly accused of murder and spent 17 months in jail. Because of Mr. Nenner’s investigation and research, he was able to help his client get released from jail. See more about this case here.
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