Drug Charges

Attorney Goldstein Wins Dismissal of Possession With Intent to Deliver Charges

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak T. Goldstein, Esquire recently won the full dismissal of Possession with the Intent to Deliver (“PWID”) and Knowing and Intentional Possession of a controlled substance charges at a preliminary hearing. In the case of Commonwealth v. D.H., the Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge dismissed the entire case after agreeing with Attorney Goldstein’s argument that prosecutors had relied entirely on hearsay evidence in presenting their case that D.H. allegedly sold drugs to a confidential informant.

In Commonwealth v. D.H., police claimed that they had conducted a multi-day narcotics investigation involving the use of a confidential informant. An officer testified at the preliminary hearing that he had arranged for the confidential informant to make a number of controlled buys. On day one, the confidential informant made two controlled buys of crack cocaine using pre-recorded buy money from an address in Philadelphia. On one of the times, an unknown female opened the door for the confidential informant. The police could not see who opened the door for the second transaction that day.

Police returned the next day armed with a search warrant. Prior to executing the search warrant, they sent the CI to the house one more time in an attempt to make another purchase of crack cocaine. Officers watched the CI approach the house. Again, the CI was let in by an unknown female. The CI then returned to the police with the newly-purchased crack cocaine. The defendant, D.H., and the female, then walked out of the house briefly and then returned and went back inside. Officers decided to execute the search warrant once they went back inside.

The police report for the case claimed that one of the officers who executed the search warrant saw D.H. grab a bag full of crack cocaine which matched that which had been sold to the CI and try to throw that bag in the toilet of an upstairs bathroom. Other officers claimed in their reports that they found paperwork with D.H.’s name on it in a bedroom which contained both an additional quantity of crack cocaine as well as some of the pre-recorded buy money. Therefore, because D.H. allegedly tried to get rid of the drugs and had identifying documents in a room that had the buy money in it, police assumed that he must have been the person in the house who had sold the crack to the CI on the three occasions prior to the execution of the warrant.

The problem with the case, however, was that the officer who actually testified at the preliminary hearing had not seen any of the things mentioned in the report. The officer was only able to testify to the allegations that he had seen the CI go into the house on three occasions, but he did not see D.H. ever interact with the CI. He also had not personally seen D.H. try to get rid of the drugs, and he had also not recovered the buy money himself. Further, on cross-examination, he admitted that the paperwork that they found with D.H.’s name on it actually showed that he lived at a different address.

At the hearing, prosecutors repeatedly attempted to question the officer as to the observations and recoveries made by the rest of the narcotics squad. Attorney Goldstein repeatedly objected to the introduction of this hearsay testimony. In general, some hearsay is admissible at a preliminary hearing. In the suburban counties, many magisterial district judges have begun allowing entire cases to be held for court based on nothing more than hearsay testimony. Fortunately, most Philadelphia judges continue to require at least some actual eyewitness testimony and still impose some limits on the use of hearsay at a preliminary hearing. Therefore, Attorney Goldstein moved for the dismissal of the case because the officer who testified had not actually seen D.H. do anything. He had not seen him interact with the CI, he had not seen him in possession of the drugs, and he had not recovered the buy money that was supposedly near D.H.’s mail. Thus, absolutely everything he testified to was hearsay that had been told to him by other officers.

The Municipal Court Judge agreed and dismissed the case. D.H. was immediately free to go, and the charges will be eligible for an expungement.

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

Criminal Defense Lawyers Demetra Mehta and Zak Goldstein

Criminal Defense Lawyers Demetra Mehta and Zak Goldstein

If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have successfully obtained full acquittals and dismissals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, Rape, and First-Degree Murder. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.

PA Superior Court: Police Need Search Warrant to Collect Real Time Cell Site Location Data

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Pacheco, holding that the police are required to obtain a search warrant if they wish to collect an individual’s real-time cell site location information (hereinafter “CSLI”). This is a very significant decision because police are increasingly relying on suspects’ digital footprints when they are building and prosecuting cases in all types of crimes.

Commonwealth v. Pacheco 

In April 2015, the Montgomery County, PA District Attorney’s office and its Narcotics Enforcement Team uncovered a large alleged criminal conspiracy. The DA’s office learned that a Mexican drug trafficking organization was smuggling heroin into the United States and the defendant, a Norristown resident, was picking up the heroin in Atlanta, Georgia and then transporting it to wholesale buyers in New York City. 

On July 23, 2015, Montgomery County prosecutors applied for and obtained orders for a wiretap pursuant to Pennsylvania’s Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act (hereinafter “The Wiretap Act”) for the defendant’s cell phone. One month later, on August 28, 2015, Montgomery County prosecutors sought and obtained additional orders under the Wiretap Act to obtain information relating to the defendant’s cell phone number and the numbers for other cell phones believed to be used by him. Pursuant to these orders, prosecutors obtained call detail records for the past thirty days. Additionally, the orders allowed prosecutors to obtain mobile communication tracking information, install and use pen registers, trap and trace devices, and telecommunications identification interception devices for sixty days. On October 15, 2015, the court issued an order extending the surveillance of the defendant’s phone for an additional sixty days. 

On December 11, 2015 and January 6, 2016, the Montgomery County DA’s office sought and obtained orders from the Pennsylvania Superior Court to allow them to intercept oral, electronic, and wire communications for the cell phone registered to the defendant, as well as three others believed to be used by him. The detectives also obtained real-time cell site location information (“CSLI”), but did not get a search warrant for this information. Based on the results of these orders, prosecutors and detectives analyzed the information and identified multiple occasions between September 2015 and January 2016 when the defendant traveled to Atlanta and New York as a member of the drug trafficking organization. 

On each trip, the defendant obtained a car battery containing three kilograms of heroin in Atlanta, returned briefly to Norristown, and then transported the heroin to New York. The defendant would use his cell phone to facilitate these transactions. Based on their investigation, the detectives also learned that on January 10, 2015, the defendant planned to drive from Georgia back through Norristown with a retrofitted car battery containing three kilograms of heroin. Police assembled a surveillance team along the defendant’s anticipated route and apprehended him in Montgomery County. A search of his vehicle revealed three kilograms of heroin hidden in the car’s battery. 

The defendant was subsequently arrested and charged with nine counts of Possession with the Intent to Deliver (“PWID”)., two counts of dealing in unlawful proceeds, and one count of conspiracy to commit PWID and corrupt organizations. The defendant then moved to suppress the call detail records and the evidence that was collected through the telecommunications interception devices. Following a suppression hearing and supplemental briefing, the trial court denied his suppression. 

The case then proceeded to a jury trial that began on August 7, 2017. The defendant stipulated that he transported three kilograms of heroin on seven of the nine trips detected by law enforcement. He also admitted that he “did the things that police say [he] did.” However, the defendant raised the defense of duress by claiming that he was coerced by Mexican drug cartels to act as a drug courier and if he did not comply, the cartels threatened that they would kill his family members. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury convicted the defendant of all charges except corrupt organizations. On November 29, 2017, the trial court sentenced him to forty to eighty years, followed by ten years of probation. The defendant then filed post-sentence motions which were denied. He then filed a timely appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

What is CSLI? 

In Carpenter v. United States, the United States Supreme Court explained CSLI as follows:

There are 396 million cell phone service accounts in the United States…Cell phones perform their wide and growing variety of functions by connecting to a set of radio antennas called “cell sites.” Although cell sites are usually mounted on a tower, they can also be found on light posts, flagpoles, church steeples, or the sides of buildings. Cell sites typically have several directional antennas that divide the covered area into sectors. 

Cell phones continuously scan their environment looking for the best signal, which generally comes from the closet cell site. Most modern devise, such as smartphones, tap into the wireless network several times a minute whenever their signal is on, even if the owner is not using one of the phone’s features. Each time the phone connects to a cell site, it generates a time-stamped record known as cell-site location information (CSLI). The precision of this information depends on the size of the geographic area covered by the cell site. The greater the concentration of cell sites, the smaller the coverage area. As data usage from cell phones has increased, wireless carries have install more cell sites to handle the traffic….[a]accordingly, modern cell phones generate increasingly vast amounts of increasingly precise CSLI. 

Do the Police Need a Search Warrant to Collect CSLI? 

Yes. In Carpenter, the United States Supreme Court held that an individual maintains a legitimate expectation of privacy in the historical record of his physical movements as captured through CSLI. The Supreme Court stated that CSLI date contains the “privacies of life” because most people carry their cell phones everywhere they go. It was no consequence that this information is voluntarily provided to cell phone companies. However, Carpenter did not address the issue of “real time CSLI” which was the issue in the defendant’s case.   

The Superior Court’s Decision

The Pennsylvania Superior Court granted the defendant’s appeal. The Superior Court found that the detectives needed to obtain a search warrant before they collected the defendant’s real-time CSLI information. Although this was an issue of first impression in the Commonwealth, the Superior Court recognized that many other courts that have addressed this issue have determined that real-time CSLI is subject to the same privacy concerns as historical CSLI. Specifically, the court found that cell phone users have an expectation of privacy in their cell phone location in real time and that society is prepared to recognize that expectation as reasonable. Further, the Superior Court held that the Commonwealth did not comply with the Fourth Amendment when it obtained orders under the Wiretap Act because obtaining an order under the Wiretap Act does not require probable cause. Instead, these Wiretap Act orders are granted so long as the information likely to be obtained is “relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by that agency.” Therefore, the Superior Court held that the real-time CSLI evidence seized from the cell phone was the product of a constitutionally defective warrantless search. Thus, the defendant’s sentence was vacated for further proceedings, which could include a new trial.

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

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If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have successfully obtained full acquittals and dismissals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, Rape, Possession with the Intent to Deliver, and First Degree Murder. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.

 

Not Guilty – Attorney Goldstein Wins Acquittal in Possession with the Intent to Deliver Case

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Zak Goldstein

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Zak Goldstein

Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Zak T. Goldstein, Esquire recently won a full acquittal in the case of Commonwealth v. D.V. following a bench trial in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. The case involved charges of Possession with the Intent to Deliver and Knowing and Intentional Possession of a controlled substance.

In D.V., police officers alleged that they set up a narcotics surveillance in the Kensington area. Two veteran narcotics officers parked their car at an area known for a high level of drug sales and began watching the corner. Shortly thereafter, they claimed to have seen the defendant standing at the intersection right near their car. The defendant then allegedly engaged in three hand to hand transactions with alleged buyers in which the officers claimed that they saw the defendant accept money from the individuals, cross the street to what appeared to be a stash location, retrieve small objects consistent with drug packaging, and then provide those objects to the alleged buyers.

All three alleged buyers left the area shortly after the hand-to-hands and were promptly stopped by backup officers and found to be in possession of various controlled substances like heroin, crack, and marijuana. After arresting the buyers, the officers attempted to arrest D.V.. They claimed, however, that as they pulled up, D.V. took off running. They chased him and caught him after he fell. When they arrested him, he apparently had matching drugs and a large amount of money on him. They also recovered additional drugs from the stash location.

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D.V. retained Attorney Goldstein for trial and elected to have the judge decide the case instead of a jury. Although the officer’s testimony, if believed, certainly would have been enough evidence to convict D.V. due to the number of alleged transactions and the presence of matching drugs on the buyers and seller, Attorney Goldstein was able to destroy the officer’s credibility on cross-examination.

First, Attorney Goldstein highlighted that the claimed locations of the arrests of the buyers made absolutely no sense because they were all allegedly arrested within eyesight of the corner where the defendant was supposedly selling drugs. Thus, if the defendant had really been out there selling drugs, he would have seen the buyers get arrested and been able to leave before engaging in more sales.

Second, Attorney Goldstein highlighted discrepancies between the officer’s testimony at the preliminary hearing and at trial. At the preliminary hearing, the officer testified that he had not been able to see the defendant actually reach into the stash location because it was behind a building, but he knew that it was used as a stash from prior arrests. At trial, he claimed that he could actually see into the location and see the defendant pick up objects.

Third, Attorney Goldstein highlighted the fact that D.V. sustained severe injuries to his face and teeth when arrested. Although the police claimed that these injuries occurred as the result of a fall, it was clear from photos taken shortly taken after the incident that it was unlikely that D.V. was injured from falling. Further, the officers’ explanations for the injuries were inconsistent and contradictory on cross examination.

Finally, Attorney Goldstein introduced evidence that one of the backup officers involved in the case had recently been arrested by the Pennsylvania State Police and that other officers had previously been suspended for police brutality allegations.

After the judge viewed the injury photos, heard the cross-examination, and saw that the police story just did not add up, the judge concluded that she had reasonable doubt and found D.V. not guilty of all charges.

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

Demetra Mehta and Zak Goldstein - Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorneys

Demetra Mehta and Zak Goldstein - Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in state and federal courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have successfully obtained full acquittals and dismissals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, Rape, and First-Degree Murder. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.

Police Need More Than Vague Concerns About Officer Safety to Search a Home Without a Warrant

Police Need More Than Vague Concerns About Officer Safety to Search a Home Without a Warrant

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Duke, holding that Pennsylvania State Troopers illegally searched the defendant’s house by walking into his open garage after he told them to leave his property. The Superior Court specifically rejected the idea that police could create exigent circumstances, claim that a person could have been retrieving a weapon without any basis for believing that, and then use those two factors to search someone’s property without a warrant.