Many defendants in Philadelphia drug cases are often arrested after law enforcement finds drugs on their person or in their cars or homes during a search. If the police conducted the search without a legally valid reason, then the drugs found may be suppressed resulting in the case being withdrawn by the prosecution.
Related: Prosecution withdraws Philadelphia drug case after top rated Philadelphia criminal lawyer files a Motion to Suppress. Read more about this recent Philadelphia drug case.
There are two standards related to search and seizure in Philadelphia drug cases:
1. reasonable suspicion, and
2. probable cause.
Reasonable suspicion is when an officer has sufficient knowledge to believe that criminal activity is at hand. In terms of the burden of proof, this standard is lower than probable cause. Whether a police officer has reasonable suspicion to conduct a search depends on the totality of the circumstances. The court will apply this objective standard based on what the officer observed and the officer’s experience in the area.
Reasonable suspicion allows stops and questioning by officers to explore their reasonable suspicions that criminal activity is afoot, i.e., the person being stopped was involved in a crime or is about to commit a crime. This is known as a Terry Stop. If the stop and frisk gives rise to probable cause that a crime was committed, then the police officer can make an arrest and conduct a search of an individual.
For instance, a police officer dressed in uniform walks by a group of individuals in a high crime area in Philadelphia. As the police officer gets closer, one of the individuals looks at the police officer and starts to run away. The police officer has made numerous drug arrests in the area and knows that corner is often a place to sell drugs. The police officer then chases after the individual, stops the individual and proceeds to pat him down. The officer cannot search the person; he can only pat him down. During the pat down, if the police officer feels a gun bulge and/or an object that is similar to a meth bag, the police officer now has probable cause to search the individual. However, if during the pat down, the police feels nothing, then he cannot search the individual.
If it is found that the stop and pat down of the individual is unreasonable, then all evidence found resulting from the Terry Stop can be excluded.
Continue to part II for an article about probable cause.
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