Pennsylvania Superior Court Upholds Conviction where Evidence of Trafficking Outweighs Expert Testimony of Personal Use
Philadelphia police officers arrested a man suspected of trafficking drugs, after observing him twice engage in hand-to-hand transactions with individuals who approached the suspect. The suspected dealer, Lawrence Lee, was observed accepting money from individuals, walking across the street to a vacant lot, and then returning with small objects in his hand which he would give to the buyer. Following the first sale observed by police, the buyer was stopped, searched, and a small, pink-tinted bag containing crack-cocaine was recovered. After observing the second sale, police arrested Lee and recovered a small amount of cash. Upon searching the vacant lot where Lee was observed during the sales, 49 pink-tinted bags of crack-cocaine were recovered.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court previously has held that police experience and training are insufficient factors to establish probable cause, when police observe a single hand-to-hand transaction which they believe to involve drugs. However here, police observed multiple transactions and also had recovered crack-cocaine from the first alleged customer. Lee appealed his convictions, one count each of possession of a controlled substance and intent to deliver a controlled substance, on the basis that the prosecution did not establish all of the elements of the intent to deliver. In Pennsylvania, the intent to deliver can be implied by having a large quantity of a controlled substance. Pennsylvania law requires mandatory minimum prison sentences for conviction of trafficking, based on the quantity of contraband recovered. Police recovered 2.6 grams of crack-cocaine from Lee; enough to constitute a mandatory minimum sentence for his trafficking conviction. Lee brought an expert witness to testify on his behalf that some of the drugs recovered were for Lee’s personal use and not intended to be sold. The defense had hoped that this would, at the least, bring the amount of drugs “intended to be sold” under the 2.0 gram threshold for the mandatory minimum sentence. However, the Superior Court found that since there was no paraphernalia recovered, among other factors, they were free as the fact-finder to find the expert testimony incredible, and therefore upheld Lee’s conviction on both counts.
Possession of a controlled substance is a crime which carries many harsh penalties. Depending on the quantity of controlled substance you are found to possess, you may even be charged with intent to deliver or drug trafficking. Such charges carry even greater penalties. For example, possessing between 2 and 10 grams of crack-cocaine with intent to traffic carries a minimum penalty of 1 year in prison for a first offense, and 3 years for subsequent offenses. Larger quantities mandate longer minimum sentences as well.
Drug offenses are serious matters which involve serious penalties. If you have been charged with a drug offense, there are many defenses which may be available. Contact a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer immediately, so that your situation can be assessed and a defense to your charges can be developed.