Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ruling Requires More than Police Experience to Constitute Probable Cause to Search Following a Perceived Drug Deal
A Philadelphia, Pennsylvania man, who was arrested outside of a bar when patrolling police officers witnessed what they perceived to be a drug deal, has had his conviction overturned by the Pennsylvania Superior Court. Philadelphia Police were driving by when they observed the defendant exit the bar and approach a man who had been standing out front. The officers, experienced members of the Narcotics Field Unit, parked their vehicle and observed the defendant engage in conversation with the man. The officers saw the defendant hand the man currency with his left hand and receive some object(s) with his right, which he then placed in his pants pocket. The defendant then walked to a vehicle and entered the passenger side. The officers approached the vehicle and ordered the defendant to exit. Upon searching the defendant, the officers discovered two containers of crack-cocaine and arrested the defendant.
The defendant appealed his conviction to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The defendant based his appeal on the premise that the evidence against him should have been suppressed. The Superior Court held that despite the totality of the circumstances present in this case (specifically the extent of the officers’ knowledge and experience, the area in which the crime occurred, etc.), the Court’s hands were tied based on a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in Commonwealth v. Dunlap. In Dunlap, the facts were similar to those in this case, and the Supreme Court ruled that police observation of a single transaction was not enough to constitute probable cause to search a suspected drug-dealer; since there was only one transaction observed, the object transferred could not be assumed to be illegal contraband.
Delivery of a controlled substance is a crime which carries 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. 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, including challenging the constitutionality of a police search. Contact a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer immediately, so that your situation can be assessed and a defense to your charges can be developed.