Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Zak Goldstein recently won a motion to suppress for a client charged with Possession with the Intent to Deliver a large amount of marijuana and related charges. Because the suppression of the evidence resulted in all of the marijuana and paraphernalia being excluded from introduction at trial, the Commonwealth was then forced to dismiss all of the charges against the client without obtaining any convictions.
In Commonwealth v. E.C., Philadelphia Police Officers pulled E.C. over in Southwest Philadelphia after allegedly observing him making an abrupt left turn without using his turn signal. Although E.C. stopped right away, police searched his car shortly after pulling him over. They claimed that they could smell marijuana coming from the car. This claim, if believed by a judge, would result in police having probable cause to search the car for marijuana despite the fact that Philadelphia no longer prosecutes most marijuana-related offenses.
Officers claimed that after they obtained E.C.’s paperwork for the car, they told him that they were going to search the car due to the odor of marijuana. In response, E.C. told the police that he had weed in his pants. Police then searched him and found a small amount of weed. When they searched the rest of the car, they found more marijuana, drug paraphernalia indicative of an intent to sell the marijuana such as scales and new and unused packaging, and a significant amount of cash. Police arrested E.C., and prosecutors charged him with Possession with the Intent to Deliver, Knowing and Intentional Possession of a Controlled Substance, Possession of Marijuana, and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.
Fortunately, E.C. retained criminal defense attorney Zak Goldstein shortly after the preliminary hearing. Attorney Goldstein reviewed the discovery and the notes of testimony from the preliminary hearing and quickly realized that because of the amount of marijuana and paraphernalia found in the car, the defense to these charges would have to be a motion to suppress. Further, because the officers claimed in their paperwork to have smelled marijuana, Attorney Goldstein realized that he would have to convince the trial judge that the officers had not actually smelled marijuana and instead had conducted a warrantless search without probable cause. Attorney Goldstein filed a motion to suppress, and the trial court held a hearing on the motion.
At the motions hearing, the Commonwealth called one of the police officers to testify to the circumstances of the vehicle stop and the search. That officer testified mostly consistently with the paperwork. However, Attorney Goldstein was able to show through cross-examination that it was unlikely that the officers would have smelled marijuana because of the way in which the weed was packaged. Additionally, when the Commonwealth rested, Mr. Goldstein then called the officer’s partner to testify to see whether her version of events matched her partner’s version. On cross-examination, the partner testified that although she had also participated in the vehicle stop and search of the car, she had not smelled the marijuana that her partner had claimed to smell. Faced with this conflicting testimony about whether there was an actual odor of marijuana which would justify the officers’ subsequent commands and search, the trial judge found the officers not credible and granted the motion to suppress. The prosecution moved to withdraw the charges, and E.C. will be eligible to have his record expunged.
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