State College Marijuana Possession Case

Warrantless Entry Into Client’s State College Residence

Client was scheduled to appear for a summary trial for Public Drunkenness and related offenses before a State College Magisterial District Judge. Client took his loaded firearm to court. The court did not have a legally-required area for Client to “check” his firearm. Client was charged with Possession of a Firearm in a Court Facility and Firearms Not to Be Possessed Without a License. When Client appeared in court for the gun-related charges, his bail conditions were modified to prohibit firearm possession, and Client was ordered to surrender all firearms to the Sheriff’s Department. Client was transported by the Centre County Sheriff’s Department to Client’s residence. As Client walked towards his residence, deputies followed, Client stopped walking, and the deputies then handcuffed Client and took his apartment key from his pocket. The deputies made a warrantless entry into the home and immediatley saw a sign hanging that said “I do not consent to this search.” The deputies then observed items that they believed were related to bomb construction, so they called the Ferguson Township police, and the Ferguson Township Police contacted the Penn State bomb squad.  Three hours later, the bomb squad arrived.

Plan to Conduct a Warrantless Search

Instead of obtaining a warrant during the three-hour wait, the police devised a plan to search the residence and then obtain a warrant if anything illegal was found. So, instead of getting a warrant to search, the police planned to search and then get the warrant. During the police search, no bomb making items were found, but the police did find marijuana and related paraphernalia. The police then obtained a warrant to seize the marijuana-related evidence.

State College Marijuana and Paraphernalia Charges Filed

Client was charged with 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). State College criminal defense lawyer Jason S. Dunkle filed a pre-trial motion to suppress and argued that the initial warrantless entry and search of Client’s home violated his constitutional rights. The Centre County District Attorney’s Office argued that the police “exigent circumstances” allowed the police to enter and search without a warrant.  “Exigent circumstances” allows the police to forgo obtaining a warrant to prevent an immediate harm.  Here, the defense argued that the police could have obtained a warrant during the three-hour wait for the Penn State bomb squad, so the police clearly did not act immediately to prevent a harm, so exigent circumstances did not apply.

The Centre County judge rejected the defense argument, but the judge also rejected the prosecution argument and ruled that exigent circumstances were not present. The judge denied suppression and ruled that Client had consented to the warrantless entry when he agreed to the bail conditions to surrender firearms to the Sheriff’s Department. The judge stated that an agreement to surrender firearms allowed the Sheriff’s to make a warrantless entry to seize the firearms.

Appeal of Suppression Denial to Superior Court

An appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court was filed.  The Superior Court disagreed with the Centre County judge and ruled that Client’s agreement to surrender his firearms to the Sheriff’s department was not consent to allow the Sheriff’s to enter his residence and take the guns without Client’s permission. Client’s actions in stopping in his sidewalk evidenced his intent to not allow the Sheriff’s to enter, so Client clearly did not consent. The Superior Court returned the case to Centre County with instructions that the marijuana evidence be suppressed. The Centre County drug charges were then dismissed. Expungement paperwork was filed with the Centre County court to have the case removed from Client’s records.