Pennsylvania’s drug possession laws are among the strictest in the United States. As a consequence, state and local prosecutors allocate enormous resources for the investigation, arrest and prosecution of those suspected of the drug possession crimes.
Adverse Consequences of a Drug Possession Conviction
The consequences of a conviction for a drug possession charge are severe and can include jail time, extended supervision under probation or parole as well as significant fines and court costs. Individuals convicted of a drug possession crime may also face loss of employment, long-term damage to their reputation and the likelihood of having a permanent criminal record.
For younger professionals, the consequences of a drug possession conviction are equally serious and can include being disqualified from federal student financial and the possibility of being excluded from employment in professions requiring professional licensure and certification. It is important to have a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney on your side if you are charged with a drug possession crime.
Bucks County Drug Possession Defense Attorney
I have over a decade of experience providing skilled and aggressive representation to individuals facing drug possession charges in Bucks County, Montgomery County and the surrounding counties. Contact me at (215) 752-5282 or fill out the confidential contact form for an immediate response. Appointments are available after business hours and on weekends.
Common Drug Possession Defenses
In over a decade of criminal defense practice, I have encountered almost every possible scenario related to a drug possession arrest. I will thoroughly investigate the facts and evidence in your case to identify the most effective defense against the charges. Some of the most common defenses used in drug possession cases include:
- The drugs were found in common areas shared by others (residence, vehicle)
- Possession of a valid prescription for the drugs seized by the police
- Inaccurate lab test results
- A lack of intent to be in possession of the drugs
- A lack of knowledge of the possession of the drugs
- Establishing that the drugs belonged to another person
Contamination of Evidence in a Drug Case
The chain of custody of evidence in a drug case refers to the documentation of the transfer of drug evidence from the time it is collected to the time that it is presented in court. Evidence in a drug possession case may pass through the hands of many law enforcement officers and laboratory technicians after it is confiscated as part of a police investigation. Establishing a break in the chain of custody in a drug possession case can often cause jurors or a trial judge to question the integrity of the state laboratory results and create reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused.
Challenging the Drug Test Results
Demonstrating that the proper procedures and protocols were not followed by the state laboratory personnel during the handling and analysis of the illegal drugs or controlled substances can also be used as an effective defense in some cases. I have often used an independent forensic toxicologist to evaluate whether the state laboratory personnel followed the proper guidelines during the collection, processing and testing of the drugs. An independent forensic toxicologist can testify at trial to rebut the opinions and conclusions of the government’s toxicologist in cases where the proper guidelines were not followed. I can review the evidence in your case to determine if the drug evidence was properly collected, processed and analyzed.
Suppressing Illegally Obtained Drug Evidence
One of the most important tools in successfully defending against drug possession charges is the Motion to Suppress Evidence. A Motion to Suppress Evidence is filed in a drug possession case when there is reason to believe that the police or other law enforcement authorities violated your federal or state constitutional rights during their initial contact with you, during your arrest or during the investigation and prosecution of your case. A Motion to Suppress Evidence as a result of an illegal search and seizure by the police is a common pre-trial motion in a drug possession case.
Marijuana Smell Alone No Longer Sufficient for a Vehicle Search
In the 2020 case of Commonwealth v. Barr, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that the police may no longer search a defendant’s vehicle based solely on the smell of marijuana. Until the Barr decision, it was legal for the police to search the accused’s car even when the only evidence of criminal activity was the odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle.
The court emphasized that under Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act (MMA), many Pennsylvania citizens can now legally possess medical marijuana on their person or in their vehicle. However, the court declared that the smell of marijuana could be one of many factors to be considered by the police in establishing probable cause to conduct a car search. The Barr case is one of the most powerful search and seizure decisions from the Pennsylvania appellate courts in decades.
Types of Suppression Motions in Drug Cases
A motion to Suppress Evidence will include a specific list of evidence sought to be excluded from use as evidence during the trial. Examples of the types of evidence that may be excluded from use at trial through a suppression motion include:
- Drugs, weapons or contraband seized by the police
- Alleged incriminating statements made by the accused to the police
- Illegal pre-arrest or post-arrest identification of the accused
If the court grants the Motion to Suppress Evidence, the illegally obtained evidence will be inadmissible at trial.
Consequences of a Pre-Trial Suppression Motion Ruling
A Successful Motion to Suppress Evidence will often result in a withdrawal or dismissal of the charges by the prosecutor. I am highly knowledgeable in the state and federal laws related to the unlawful search and seizure of evidence, illegal police interrogation procedures and the use of improper identification procedures by the police.
Identifying Search and Seizure Issues in a Drug Possession Case
I will thoroughly examine the facts and circumstances of your case to examine any actions the police took that violated your constitutional rights against illegal search and seizure. Most drug possession arrests take place after the police conduct a search and seizure of evidence from an individual’s person, vehicle or home. Many types of constitutional violations can occur during an encounter between a citizen and the police, including:
- A vehicle stop by police without reasonable suspicion
- A pat-down by police without reasonable suspicion or probable cause
- An arrest by police without probable cause
- A search conducted by police without a warrant or other lawful authority
- The seizure of evidence by police without a warrant or other lawful authority
- The police lacked probable cause in obtaining a search warrant
Violations of Miranda in a Drug Possession Case
By watching television crime shows, most people have become familiar with the rights guaranteed through the United States Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona. The Miranda case has real-life implications for many individuals who are questioned by the police during a drug possession investigation.
What Miranda Means
Miranda was decided in 1966 by the United States Supreme Court and established that, prior to custodial interrogation by the police or other law enforcement agents, the accused must be advised of his or her right against self-incrimination and of the right to be represented by a lawyer. The constitutional protections under Miranda are triggered whenever a suspect is subjected to custodial questioning by the police. The custodial questioning by the police must be reasonable likely to elicit an incriminating response from the accused.
The Definition of Custody under Miranda
Custody is defined under Miranda to include placing a person under arrest or otherwise depriving a person of their freedom in any significant way. The prosecutor must establish that the accused understood and explicitly waived his or her Miranda rights before any incriminating statements can be used as evidence against the accused at trial. The Miranda court established that police and other law enforcement agents, prior to custodial interrogation, must specifically inform a criminal suspect of the following:
- You have the right to remain silent; and
- Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law; and
- You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him or her present with you while you are being questioned; and
- If you are unable to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning takes place; and
- You can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer any questions or make any statements
Violations of Miranda by the Police
Miranda warnings are designed to protect a criminal suspect from making incriminating statements during police interrogation. Despite the Miranda requirements, there are many circumstances in which the police will fail to properly advise a suspect in custody of these constitutionally required warnings.
Suppression of an Unlawful Confession
It is very common for the police to conduct a custodial interrogation of a drug possession suspect without providing the legally required Miranda warnings. I will often file a Motion to Suppress Evidence in cases where the police violated the Miranda requirements to gain an alleged confession from a suspect in a drug possession case.
The Suppression Hearing
During a pre-trial suppression hearing, the police will often claim that a criminal suspect was not in custody during police questioning and was therefore not subject to Miranda protections. In these cases, I have often been able to demonstrate through cross-examination of the police officer that the accused was in custody during questioning by the police according to the guidelines of Miranda.
In many cases, the police will continue to interrogate a criminal suspect after he or she has requested a lawyer under the Miranda rule. In some cases, I have been able to establish that the police ignored a criminal suspect’s right to counsel under Miranda by presenting the testimony of the accused and other supporting evidence during the suppression hearing.
Other Constitutional Violations During Police Questioning
A confession given by a criminal suspect can also be excluded from evidence if the court concludes that it was not given voluntarily. A confession will be considered involuntary if it is given in response to threats, coercion, deception or promises of leniency by the police. Prolonged interrogation or the extended isolation of a criminal suspect by the police during questioning can also result in a confession being ruled involuntary by the court.
In most cases, a suppression court’s ruling excluding evidence of an illegally obtained confession will result in a withdrawal or dismissal of the charges by the prosecutor. I am highly experienced in examining the circumstances of a drug possession case to identify any Miranda violations occurring during the custodial interrogation of the accused by the police.
Start with a Strong Defense
If you have been charged with drug possession in Bucks County, Montgomery County or the surrounding counties, it is critical that you act quickly to protect your rights and build the strongest possible defense against the charges. Phone lines are open 24 hours a day at (215) 752-5282. Call today for a free initial consultation or fill out the confidential contact form for an immediate response.