Warrantless Entry into State College Apartment - Small Amount of Marijuana and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia

The State College police responded to a report of an odor of burning marijuana in the hallway of a State College apartment. An officer responded to the call, discovered the source of the marijuana smell, knocked on the apartment door, spoke with the residents about the odor, and was granted permission to enter. After briefly talking to the four occupants of the apartment, the officer ordered all four into the hallway. After a backup officer arrived, the officer made a warrantless entry into the apartment to conduct a "protective sweep," meaning a cursory search for people to ensure that no evidence can be destroyed. While conducting the "sweep" or warrantless search, the officer saw a marijuana bong in plain view. The officer then applied for and received a search warrant for the entire apartment based upon the item of paraphernalia that she had observed. The search of the apartment led to the discovery of a small amount of marijuana and the bong.

Clients were charged with Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. Clients retained the services of experienced State College drug defense attorney Jason S. Dunkle. At the preliminary hearing, Attorney Dunkle advised the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case that the officer's warrantless entry into the apartment after she had ordered all of the occupants into the hallway violated Client's constitutional rights as set forth in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The basic argument was that the officer should have obtained a warrant or requested consent from Clients prior to re-entering the apartment, and the officer's failure to obtain a valid warrant meant that all evidence found as a result of the search must be suppressed. Prior to the Formal Arraignment, the assistant district attorney agreed to dismiss the charges against Clients in exchange for payment of court costs. Clients paid court costs, the charges were dismissed, and expungement petitions were filed with the Centre County court to have the records of the cases destroyed.