Warrantless Search of Client's State College Residence
The client was charged with Possession of a Firearm in a Court Facility and Firearms Not to Be Possessed Without a License after he took a firearm into a court facility of a State College Magisterial District Court. The client appeared at his preliminary hearing in Centre County, and the district judge modified the bail conditions to prohibit the client from possessing firearms. The client was ordered to surrender possession of firearms to the Centre County Sheriff's Department in order to ensure compliance with the bail conditions. The client was transported by the Centre County Sheriff's Department to the client's State College residence. As the client and the Sheriff's deputies approached the client's residence, the client stopped walking. At this point, the Centre County deputy sheriffs handcuffed the client and removed the key to the State College residence from the client's pocket. The Centre County deputies opened the front door, and, hanging from the door frame was a sign that said "I do not consent to this search." The deputies then peered inside the residence. The deputies observed items that they believed could be used to construct bombs, so the deputies contacted the local Ferguson Township police.
Plan to Conduct a Warrantless Search
The Ferguson Township police contacted the Penn State bomb squad and waited for three hours for a bomb squad technician to arrive. The police then formulated a "plan" that called for the Penn State bomb squad officer to enter the residence, conduct a warrantless search of the residence, and, if anything were discovered during the search, the police would obtain a search warrant to permit the seizure of the discovered items. The search led to the discovery of suspected marijuana and related paraphernalia in the kitchen. The police then obtained a warrant from a State College District Judge to seize the marijuana and paraphernalia.
State College Marijuana and Paraphernalia Charges Filed
State College charges of Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana, 35 P.S. 780-113(a)(31), and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, 35 P.S. 780-113(a)(32), were filed in a Centre County Court. The client retained State College criminal defense lawyer Jason S. Dunkle to provide representation, and he filed a pre-trial motion in the Centre County Court of Common Pleas seeking suppression of evidence. The argument was that the Ferguson Township and Penn State police had violated the client's constitutional rights by entering his residence and searching it without a warrant. The Centre County District Attorney's Office argued that the police entry and search of the State College residence did not violate the client's rights as the police actions fell under the exigent circumstances and protective sweep exceptions to the warrant requirement.
The Centre County judge rejected the argument of the drug defense lawyer and denied the suppression motion, but the court also rejected the arguments presented by the district attorney. The court stated that the client had consented to the search and therefore the search did not violate the client's constitutional rights. With suppression being denied, the evidence was admitted at the client's non-jury trial, and the client was convicted of Possession of Drug Paraphernalia by the Centre County judge.
Appeal of Suppression Denial to Superior Court
An appeal to the Superior Court was filed, and Attorney Dunkle renewed the argument that the evidence found from the warrantless search must be suppressed. The Superior Court agreed with the Penn State drug defense lawyer and held that the Centre County judge had erred in finding that the client had consented to the search. The Superior Court reversed the order of the trial court that denied the suppression of evidence. The case was remanded back to the trial court in Centre County. The district attorney dismissed the charge of Possession of Paraphernalia.