Judge Suppresses Twelve Pounds of Marijuana in Centre County Possession With Intent to Deliver Case

In what is a somewhat routine fact pattern in Centre County, a traveler on interstate 80 was stopped for a relatively minor traffic violation but a search of the person’s vehicle ultimately led to the discovery of drugs. In this particular case, the Pennsylvania State troopers stopped a man for speeding and decided to only issue a warning. In what has become routine in these cases, the troopers had the man exit his vehicle and walk to the back of the car so the officer could explain the warning. After issuing the warning and telling the man that he was free to leave, the police immediately started to question the man about his travel plans, and the trooper questioned the man as to whether or not he had  previously been arrested or was currently trafficking drugs. The man denied that he had a prior criminal record and also denied that he was transporting controlled substances. The trooper then asked for consent to search the car, and the man responded “if you want to.” The troopers searched the car and found approximately 12 pounds of marijuana. The man was arrested and charged with a felony charge of Possession With Intent to Deliver Marijuana, 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(30), Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(32), and misdemeanor Possession of Marijuana, 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(16).

State College Lawyer Seeks Suppression of Evidence

The man was smart enough to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer from State College that filed a motion to suppress and argued that the troopers’ actions violated the man’s constitutional rights. The lawyer conceded that the initial traffic stop was legal, but the argument was that the continued questioning of the man after he had been told that he was free to leave amounted to a second detention. The lawyer claimed that the second detention was not justified as the police did not have reasonable suspicion to believe that the man was involved in criminal activity, so the detention was unlawful. In  many situations, evidence found as a result of an unconstitutional detention is suppressed.

The Centre County judge considering the pretrial motion to suppress agreed with the defense. In granting the motion to suppress evidence, the judge noted that the traffic stop took place in the wee hours of the morning and miles from any exit on I-80, the traffic stop took much longer than a normal stop for speeding, the man was removed from his car solely to issue a speeding warning, the stop was conducted by two uniformed and armed police officers, the questioning of the defendant occurred immediately after the man had taken a few steps upon being told he told that he was free to leave, and the man was never told that he had the right to refuse a consent to search. Many people mistakenly believe that the police are required to tell a person that the person has the right to refuse consent to search. The truth is that the police are not required to provide such information, and whether or not the police do inform a person of the right to refuse consent is a factor that the court considers. The court also found that the man’s testimony at the suppression hearing that he was scared and did not feel free to leave was credible. Finally, the court also noted that the trooper admitted that he intended to have a drug dog sniff the exterior of the vehicle even if the man refused consent.

Marijuana Evidence Suppressed

With the judge finding that the man was subjected to an unconstitutional detention, the judge also held that the man’s consent was tainted by the illegal detention. Since the man’s consent was not valid, then all evidence found as a result of the search was suppressed, including the twelve pounds of marijuana. With the evidence being suppressed, the Centre County District Attorney’s Office cannot use the evidence at trial, which basically means that the prosecutor has no case. At this point, the district attorney will either concede defeat and dismiss the Pennsylvania drug distribution and possession charges, or the prosecutor could file an appeal to the Superior Court. Most cases like this are very fact sensitive, and appellate courts often defer to the decision of the judge that listened to all the facts and heard all of the testimony. If the district attorney appeals this decision, there is a very good chance that the Pennsylvania Superior Court will affirm or uphold the Bellefonte judge’s decision. If you want to follow the case, it is captioned in Centre County as Commonwealth v. Davis, CP-14-CR-491-2013.