Paraphernalia Charge Dismissed Because of Warrantless Search
Warrantless Search of State College Apartment
This case started as a routine response by the police when someone in a State College apartment building called the police because of the odor of marijuana was present in a hallway. The police officer sniffed around apartment door frames until she located the suspected source of the marijuana smell. She then knocked on the door, spoke with the two Penn State student residents, and was permitted to enter. After a brief conversation, the officer ordered all four occupants to follow her out of the apartment. She mandated that they remain outside the apartment while she re-entered to search the apartment. The officer then conducted a warrantless search, and she found a marijuana bong. The officer then applied for and received a search warrant to actually take the bong into police custody. The Clients were then charged with misdemeanor offenses of Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana for Personal Use under 35 P.S. 780-113(a)(31) and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.
Violation of Constitutional Rights
Everyone knows that the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution normally requires the police to obtain a search warrant PRIOR to entering a home to conduct a search. The police are not generally allowed to search, find incriminating evidence, and then use that evidence to obtain a search warrant after the fact. That is simply not how the law works. In this case, the officer’s initial entry into the apartment was lawful because the residents consented or permitted the entry. No warrant is needed to enter a residence or search an area IF the person consents. In this case, while the residents consented to the initial entry, they did not consent to the second entry and search. Therefore, the officer should have either asked the residents for consent to search, and if consent was denied, then she needed to obtain a search warrant. By not obtaining a warrant, the officer violated the residents’ 4th Amendment rights.
The residents hired an experienced criminal defense attorney from JD Law in State College. At the Preliminary Hearings, the prosecutor recommended that the Clients waive the hearing and accept an ARD resolution. The defense lawyer pushed for a better resolution by noting that the bong evidence was found after a warrantless search that most likely violated constitutional rights and that the bong evidence would likely be suppressed if a pretrial motion were filed in the future. The Centre County District Attorney’s Office agreed to dismiss the marijuana and paraphernalia charges if Clients paid approximately $300.00 in court costs. After the charges were dismissed, petitions were filed Centre County Clerk of Courts to commence the expungement process to have the records of the cases destroyed and removed from the Clients’ criminal records.