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    Vehicle Stop & Seizure in Criminal Drugs/Guns Cases in Pennsylvania

     A Look at a Successful Motion to Suppress
    in a Pennsylvania Criminal Drug Case

    In Pennsylvania, citizens have a constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Unfortunately, over the last few decades, courts have chipped away at this right. The reality is that the majority of motions to suppress drug and gun evidence will fail. The key in drug/gun evidence suppression cases in Pennsylvania is credibility of the witnesses, including the police officers who conducted the search/seizure. Commonwealth v. Joseph is a 2011 Pennsylvania Superior court case which highlights just how important it is to prove or disprove testimony of officers.

    Commonwealth v. Joseph, 34 A.3d 855 (Pennsylvania Superior Court, 2011)

    Defendant was convicted of various drug possession, manufacture and gun/firearm charges. His motion to suppress drug and gun evidence found in his car was denied. The Pennsylvania Superior Court heard his appeal and reversed his conviction, finding that the drug and gun evidence should have been suppressed.

    The relevant facts are as follows:

    The defendant was pulled over for speeding and crossing the fog line on the road. Police officers suspected he was driving under the influence (DUI). According to the police, he entered the highway from a known area of drug activity. Interestingly, while testifying at the motion to suppress hearing, the officer gave conflicting answers about which exit the defendant entered the highway from.

    While the driver was finally stopped by the police, officers noticed what the court called “potential drug paraphenalia” in his car:

    • air fresheners hanging in the rear view mirror,
    • a bag of potpourri on the dash near an air vent,
    • bars of soap on the back seat, and
    • a wrapped blunt cigar on the passenger seat.

    While writing out the citation, one of the officers ran a record check on the driver and found a significant drug history including charges for possession and possession with intent to deliver (PWID). After asking the driver to step out of the car to give him the citation, the officer began asking questions about whether the driver was transporting drugs or had guns in the car.

    The officer asked for consent to search the car, and the driver, exercising his constitutional rights, refused. The officer then stated that he had reasonable suspicion that there were illegal drugs/guns in the car and would keep the vehicle at the scene until a search warrant was issued.

    The driver was instructed he could leave the scene, and he did. However, the car doors were locked and the engine was running so the officers called for a tow truck. After the tow truck operator unlocked the doors, the officers conducted an inventory search and found a gun and a small bag (under 28 grams) of marijuana. The officer then had the car towed to a police impound lot, and after a search warrant was issued, the rest of the car was searched.

    The trial court found that the police officer had reasonable suspicion to seize the driver’s car while the officer applied for a search warrant. The appellate court disagreed and held that the fact that there was drug paraphernalia in the car and that the driver was supposedly seen entering the highway from a drug activity area were not enough to justify seizing the car pending a search warrant. Therefore, the drugs and guns found in the car were suppressed.

    The Joseph case is an important reminder to criminal lawyers in Pennsylvania that they must identify the timeline of events, conduct an investigation into the client’s rendition of events, and proceed accordingly.

    Philadelphia, PA Drug/Gun Possession Criminal Lawyer

    If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges for possession of drugs/gun found in a car, please contact our office and ask for a free consultation. There may be a valid basis to get the drugs/guns suppressed which may result in a dismissal of the case. (215) 564-0644

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    David S. Nenner

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