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Hotel Maid Find 1,400 Bags of Heroin In Guest's Room

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If they have not already done so, police in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, will soon be filing felony charges of Possession With Intent to Deliver after a maid found 1,400 packets of heroin in a room at a Comfort Inn. The maid discovered the drugs while cleaning the room and turned them over to her manager. Upon discovering that his stash was missing, the drug owner did not exercise common sense and simply take solace in the fact that he was not caught red-handed with such a large quantity of heroin, instead, he contacted the manager to report that items had been stolen from his room. It is not known whether the owner actually told the manager that 1,400 packets of heroin were stolen, but it didn't really matter as the manager had already contacted the police.

Did the Maid Criminally Trespass When She Found the Drugs?

As a criminal defense lawyer, one problem that I potentially see for the prosecution in this case is whether or not the maid was lawfully inside the room when she found the heroin. Some people are probably thinking that the maid, as an employee of the owner of the property, may enter the property at any time permitted by the owner. However, when an owner of property decides to rent or lease that property, the owner gives up some ownership rights. If the drug possessor had rented the room and the rental agreement had not expired, then the man still had a "property interest" in the room and generally could exclude people from entering the room. In such a scenario, the man may try to argue that the maid committed a felony criminal trespass by entering the room without his permission, and the trespass violated the man's right to privacy. I have successfully obtained the suppression of evidence in drug cases when the police have violated a client's constitutional rights.

Problems With Suppression Argument Based Upon Maid's Trespass

Good criminal defense lawyers see arguments that can be made on behalf of a client, but they also anticipate the counter-arguments that will be presented by the prosecution. In this case, I foresee a few problems with a defense argument that the evidence should be suppressed. The first issue that would need to be addressed is whether or not the maid actually trespassed. In the lease or rental agreement, did the landlord retain certain property rights that allow for a maid to enter the room during specified periods of time to freshen up the room. I know that I have rented rooms for multiple days, and maids enter at some point in the late morning or early afternoon to make the bed, empty the cash, and refresh the coffee bar, and I expect that such entry into the room is expressly authorized by the agreement. If the maid was authorized to enter, then there clearly is no criminal trespass, so the defendant's argument would fail.

A second issue is that even if the maid committed a criminal trespass, the constitution generally protects citizen's from "state actions," meanings actions of the government, not actions of a private person. Here, the maid was not working on behalf of the government when she entered the room, retrieved the drugs, and gave them to her employer. Had she observed the drugs, contacted the police, and then retrieved the drugs after being requested to do so by the police, then the defendant would have had an argument that the maid was working for the government and her actions constituted "state actions." The constitution protects the rights of people against oppression by the government, and it is the criminal justice system that protects citizens from one another. If the maid had  committed a criminal trespass, she could be subject to felony criminal trespass and burglary charges. However, such criminal charges would not result in the suppression of the drug evidence or the dismissal of the felony Possession With Intent to Deliver charges against the man. The police and district attorney have discretion in determining when to file and prosecute charges, and, in this type of situation, it is highly unlikely that they would charge and prosecute the maid for criminal trespass as she is their star witness.

"Drug Trafficking" Mandatory Sentences for Felony Possession With Intent to Deliver Charge

In Pennsylvania, when a person is convicted of a felony charge of Possession With Intent to Deliver, in violation of 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(30), the person may face application of various drug mandatory minimum sentencing laws. As a State College criminal defense lawyer, many of my clients face a 2-year mandatory minimum sentence in a state prison under the "drug free school zone" sentencing  law.

In this case, given that 1,400 packets of heroin were found, I am quite sure that the "drug trafficking" mandatory minimum sentencing law will apply. The "drug trafficking" law imposes mandatory minimum periods of incarceration and fines if larger quantities of drugs are involved. With regard to heroin, if the quantity involved is at least 1 gram but less than 5 grams, the person faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years incarceration and a $5,000.00 fine. If the quantity involved is at least 5 grams but less than 50 grams, the mandatory minimum sentence is 3 years incarceration and a $15,000.00 fine. If the quantity of heroin is 50 grams or more, then the mandatory minimum sentence increases to 5 years incarceration and a $25,000.00 fine. The aforementioned minimums also assume that the criminal defendant does not have any prior felony convictions of drug delivery or possession with intent to deliver in violation of 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(30). A prior conviction would substantially increase the mandatory minimum sentences that are applicable.

Simply stated, this man is in a lot of trouble, as you probably suspected when you read the headline that over 1,000 packets of heroin were involved. Clearly, this is not a small time dealer but is instead someone that the law intends to keep off the street for a relatively lengthy period of time. It would be in his best interest to hire a very good criminal defense lawyer.

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