Pennsylvania Appellate Court Upholds Suppression of Evidence Obtained through Coercive Traffic Stop
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently upheld a Cumberland County trial court’s decision to suppress evidence obtained through a traffic stop. Terry Moyer was stopped when a Corporal from the Pennsylvania State Police noticed a hole in his rear taillight. The Corporal turned on a spotlight and observed frantic movement between the driver, Mr. Moyer, and his passenger. The Corporal approached the driver and proceeded to initiate the traffic stop. The Corporal returned to his vehicle with Mr. Moyer’s information and as he was examining the driver’s information, another State Police vehicle approached. Examination of Mr. Moyer’s record showed a prior conviction for marijuana possession. The Corporal asked Mr. Moyer to exit the vehicle, proceeded to show him the hole in his taillight, and issued him a warning card; at this time, both officers were standing at the rear of Mr. Moyer’s vehicle. The Corporal noticed that Mr. Moyer’s eyes were red but told him that he was free to leave.
Just prior to Mr. Moyer re-entering his vehicle, the officer requested of Mr. Moyer that he could ask him a few more questions. Mr. Moyer reluctantly complied, to which he was asked if he had any drugs or paraphernalia on his person or in the car. The Corporal then asked if he could search the vehicle to which Mr. Moyer reluctantly agreed. A crack-pipe was found in the vehicle and another on Mr. Moyer upon his search. A subsequent blood test of Mr. Moyer showed cocaine use.
The Defense argued that the State Police action constituted a detention, requiring a reasonable suspicion to initiate a search of the defendant’s vehicle. The Commonwealth argued that since Mr. Moyer was told he was free to go following the traffic stop, the events which followed constituted a mere encounter between police and civilian, not requiring reasonable suspicion. The United States Supreme Court has ruled previously that a totality of the circumstances approach must be taken in determining what type of encounter such situation constitutes. One part of this test is whether a reasonable person would believe they were free to leave or to reject an officer’s request for search. In the case of Mr. Moyer, both the trial court and the Pennsylvania Superior Court agreed that although Mr. Moyer was told he was free to go, the subsequent actions of the officer made him believe that he was not in fact allowed to leave. Further, he was not told he could refuse the officers’ request to initiate a search. For the foregoing reasons, the evidence against Mr. Moyer was properly suppressed.
Drug offenses and Driving under the Influence are serious matters in Pennsylvania; certain offenses such as trafficking are considered felonies and carry mandatory minimum sentences. The Fourth Amendment of the United States’ Constitution affords individual rights pertaining to police search and seizure. Very often, an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney will have evidence found inadmissible due to an illegal police search, and will have charges against the defendant dropped or greatly reduced.
If you have been charged with a drug offense, contact the Law Offices of Marc Neff immediately. We are glad to assist you in your defense and help you get your life back.