Motions to Suppress

Motion to Suppress Granted: Attorney Goldstein Wins Dismissal of Possession with the Intent to Deliver Charges

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Zak Goldstein

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Zak Goldstein

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.

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, Possession with the Intent to Deliver, Aggravated Assault, Rape, and Attempted 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: Defendant Not In Custody Despite Reading of Miranda Warnings During Police Station Interrogation

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Coleman, holding that a defendant is not in custody for purposes of Miranda just because the police read him his Miranda warnings in a police station. This case rejects the fundamental right to counsel as well as the obvious reality that a suspect in a murder/arson investigation who has been escorted to the police station and given his Miranda warnings would assume that he or she is not free to leave and is instead under arrest.

The Facts of Commonwealth v. Coleman

On March 30, 2017, the Farrell Police Department was investigating an arson that caused the death of a woman. The police suspected that the defendant was involved. Based on these suspicions, the police went to the defendant’s mother’s home in Farrell, Pennsylvania. The police arrived at the residence armed, but they were not wearing their uniforms. After they identified themselves as police officers, they asked the defendant if he could talk, and the defendant allowed the officers to inside the home. Once inside, the officers told the defendant they wanted to speak with him at the nearby police station, which was about 150 yards away. The defendant responded that he would come to the police station later when he could get a ride because it was raining at the time. When the officers offered him a ride, the defendant agreed and grabbed his insulin kit.

The defendant entered the officers’ unmarked car without being handcuffed. He was not frisked, handcuffed, or restrained when he entered the car. After the two-minute drive, they arrived at the police station. The two officers, along with the defendant, walked inside the building which also contained a regional lockup facility. While walking through the facility, they walked past jail cells and eventually entered an interview room. When the defendant entered the room he was still not restrained. The officers subsequently informed him that he was free to leave at any time and permitted him to keep and use his overcoat, hat, and insulin kit.

At some point, the officers then activated the audio/video recording system and read the defendant his Miranda rights. The defendant did not sign the officers’ waiver form. The officers then began asking the defendant about the previously-mentioned arson. After about one minute, the defendant explained that he did not have anything to say about the arson. Per the Pennsylvania Superior Court, he “explicitly, clearly, and unequivocally said he did not want to talk to the police.” Despite this clear assertion of his rights, the police officers ignored his statement and continued speaking to him. They reiterated to the defendant that he was not in custody and was free to leave at any time. The officers then advised the defendant that he was a suspect, along with another individual. The officers told the defendant that they wanted to show him some photos “to see if it changed his mind.” They then showed the defendant blown-up photographs of the crime scene and the victim’s body. They also showed video from a local gas station where the defendant and the other suspect obtained gasoline. Finally, they told the defendant “disturbing details about the burnt corpse and emphasized that the victim’s children did not have a mother.”

Despite all of this, the defendant continued to deny involvement in the crime. The officers then produced a photograph of the other suspect and explained that they heard that the defendant had started the fire. They further told the defendant that “you know who did this, and whoever comes in first, that is how the story will be told.” In response to this, the defendant “started to reveal names and information about a vehicle and who the owner of the vehicle was and where that individual lived, and eventually told the police that he pointed out the house that he thought the alleged target lived in and that the [other suspect] lit the place up.” The officers then gave the defendant some paper in case he wanted to make a statement and then left the room for three minutes. While the officers were not in the room, the defendant used his insulin kit. He declined to provide a written statement. After the officers returned to the room they arrested him. He was subsequently charged with second-degree murder, aggravated arson, and other related offenses.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress his statements to the police. On October 4, 2017, a hearing was held. The testimony at the motions hearing was consistent with the above-mentioned facts. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress. The trial court found that he “clearly and unequivocally invoked his right to remain silent after he was given his Miranda warnings.” The court observed that the officers ignored his invocation of his right to remain silent so that they could elicit incriminating statements, but the trial court did not find that the defendant was subjected to custodial interrogation. The Commonwealth then filed an interlocutory appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

What happens if the police do not give Miranda warnings?

Miranda warnings are a frequently misunderstood issue in criminal law. Many people assume that police are required to read Miranda warnings to a suspect anytime they make an arrest or the case will be dismissed. This is not correct. Instead, Miranda is only relevant in a criminal case when a defendant makes a statement in response to questioning by a government official while the defendant was in custodial detention. If a defendant voluntarily blurts out an incriminating statement, then he or she will not be able to argue that this statement should be suppressed because the police failed to give the Miranda warnings. Further, if the police detain someone for an “investigatory detention,” rather than a custodial detention, then the police are not necessarily required to provide Miranda warnings prior to asking questions. For this reason, police do not typically have to provide Miranda warnings during many routine traffic stops. Traffic stops, however, can rise to the level of an arrest, and at that point, the police would be required to provide warnings.

Determining whether a statement should be suppressed because of the failure to administer Miranda warnings is a very fact intensive analysis. First, a court must look and see whether the question or statement made by the police itself was reasonably likely to illicit an incriminating response. Usually, this is the least complicated part of the analysis. If a cop asks a defendant “if they did it” or “why did you do it” then those questions are reasonably likely to illicit an incriminating response.

The issue that is more complicated is whether the defendant was in custody for purposes of Miranda. When these motions are litigated, defense attorneys will routinely ask questions such as: whether the defendant was in handcuffs; whether the officers were uniformed; whether the officers’ guns were visible; the length of the interrogation; the method of questioning; whether the door was closed; whether the defendant was offered anything to eat; etc. By doing this, the defense attorney is trying to establish that the defendant’s liberty was so restrained that he was in custody for purposes of Miranda. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court will make a finding based on the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the defendant’s statement should be suppressed. If the court grants a defendant’s motion to suppress it is important to note that this does not necessarily mean that the case will be dismissed. It only means that the Commonwealth cannot use the defendant’s statement in its case-in-chief. For a more detailed analysis on when the police are required to administer Miranda warnings, please see our blog “What Happens if the Police Don’t Give Miranda Warnings?”    

Pennsylvania Superior Court Holds That the Defendant’s Statement Was Not Illegally Obtained.

In a brief analysis, the Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned the lower court’s order granting the defendant’s motion to suppress his statement. The reason was because both the trial court and the Superior Court found that the defendant was not in custody for purposes of Miranda. Specifically, because he was not threatened, was told that he could leave;,was able to bring his insulin with him, and did not go to the police station against his will, the Pennsylvania Superior Court found that he was not in custody for purposes of Miranda. The fact that he was administered Miranda warnings while in a police station did not transform this into a custodial interrogation. Because he was not in custody, he was not actually entitled to the warnings, and the police therefore did not have to stop questioning him when he said he did not want to make a statement. Accordingly, the Commonwealth will now be able to use his statement against him at his trial.

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers

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 Attempted 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: Pulling Over to the Side of Road Is Not Suspicious

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The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Hampton, holding that police illegally stopped the defendant by physically blocking in his car after the officer saw the defendant do nothing more than pull over to the side of the road. In Hampton, the Court rejected the idea that an officer can stop someone under the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement just because they pulled over to the side of the road.

The Facts of Commonwealth v. Hampton

In Hampton, a Montgomery County, PA  police officer was on patrol in a marked vehicle at approximately 3:22 am. The officer saw a vehicle drive by her, turn, and then pull over into a field on a property belonging to a church. The driver, who was later identified as the defendant, stopped his car in the grass in front of the church’s office building. The officer pulled behind the car, but she did not activate her lights or sirens. She did, however, park her car in such a way that the car blocked the defendant’s ability to drive back onto the road. The defendant and his passenger eventually got out of their vehicle, and after an interaction with the officer, the officer ended up arresting the defendant for Driving Under the Influence.

The Motion to Suppress

After prosecutors charged the defendant with DUI, the defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress all of the evidence. The defendant argued that the officer stopped the defendant by physically blocking his car with her car without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. At the hearing on the motion to suppress, the officer admitted that she had “stopped” the defendant and that her car physically blocked his. She also admitted that she had not seen any evidence of ongoing criminal activity or motor vehicle code violations. However, she testified that she pulled in behind the defendant because she was concerned that he could be having some kind of medical emergency or car trouble. She also had not activated her lights or sirens. The trial court denied the motion to suppress. Because this was the defendant’s third DUI offense, the court sentenced the defendant to 1 – 5 years’ state incarceration.

The Superior Court Appeal

The defendant appealed the denial of the motion to suppress to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The Superior Court ultimately overturned the conviction and found that the trial court should have granted the motion.

First, the Superior Court concluded that although the officer did not activate her lights or sirens or specifically tell the defendant to stop, the officer had stopped the defendant by physically blocking the movement of his car. Because the officer had conducted a stop for Fourth Amendment purposes, the officer was required to have reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or some other exception to the warrant requirement.

Second, the Superior Court concluded that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop the defendant because the officer candidly testified at the motion to suppress hearing that she did not see any criminal activity of any kind.

Third, the Superior Court rejected the trial court’s conclusion that the stop was justified by the community caretaking exception. Under the community caretaking exception, police may conduct a warrantless search or seizure under limited circumstances such as to render emergency aid when such aid is reasonably necessary. In order for the exception to apply, the officer’s actions must be motivated by a desire to render aid or assistance rather than the investigation of criminal activity. Additionally, the officer must be able to point to specific, objective, and articulable facts that would reasonably suggest to an experienced officer that a citizen is in need of assistance. Thus, the officer must have reasonably believed that an actual emergency was ongoing.

Here, the Superior Court rejected the application of the community caretaking exception because the defendant did nothing more than pull over to the side of the road. Such behavior is encouraged and perfectly consistent with innocent activity. A motorist may pull over the road to answer the phone, rest for a moment, check a map, or for any number of other legitimate reasons. Therefore, the community caretaking exception did not apply. Accordingly, the Court reversed the defendant’s conviction and remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to grant the motion to suppress.

This is a good case for Fourth Amendment rights because the Superior Court recognized the obvious fact that when a police officer in a marked car blocks someone’s ability to drive away, the officer has stopped that person for Fourth Amendment purposes. In many cases, courts attempt to characterize contact between police and defendants as a “mere encounter” which does not require any level of suspicion. Here, the Court recognized that any reasonable person in the defendant’s position would not have felt free to leave and therefore a stop had occurred. 

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

Goldstein Mehta LLC Criminal Defense Lawyers

Goldstein Mehta LLC Criminal Defense Lawyers

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 obtained full acquittals and dismissals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, DUI, Rape, and Attempted 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: A really specific anonymous tip might be enough for a stop.

Criminal Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Criminal Lawyer Zak Goldstein

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Price, holding that a very specific anonymous tip might provide the reasonable suspicion necessary for police to conduct a Terry stop. This case is a disastrous decision for civil liberties and Fourth Amendment rights which defies common sense and ignores decades of Pennsylvania Supreme Court and Superior Court precedent.

The Facts of Price

In Price, the defendant was charged with various firearms offenses including possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, firearms not to be carried without a license, and possession of a firearm in the City of Philadelphia. Price filed a motion to suppress the gun, and the trial court conducted a hearing on the motion.

At the motion to suppress hearing, the Commonwealth presented the testimony of a Philadelphia Police Officer. The officer testified that he was on routine patrol with his partner when he received a radio call to respond to the 5100 block of Willows Ave. The officer testified that he had been on the force for seven years, and he knew that the 5100 block of Willows Ave is an area where violent crime is prevalent. He testified that the radio call provided the information that a black male, wearing a white t-shirt and gray shorts, was driving a silver Lexus with a license plate reading GWL8569, and was carrying a firearm. The officer had also learned that the radio call was the result of a call to 911.

The officers drove to 51st and Willows Avenue within a minute of receiving the broadcast and found a silver Lexus stopped at a stop sign. The officers were able to see that the driver was a black male who was wearing a white t-shirt, and they saw that the license plate read GWL8568, meaning it differed only by one digit from the number provided to 911. The officers activated their lights and sirens and stopped the vehicle. The Lexus pulled over, and the officers approached the vehicle. They could then see that the defendant was wearing gray shorts in addition to the white t-shirt. The officers opened the door and asked the defendant to step out. He did, and as he got out, the officer could see that he had a large bulge in the stomach area of his waistband. The officers searched the defendant and found a gun in his waistband.

 As the officers were recovering the gun, a woman approached them. She told police that she was the person who had called 911 and that they had arrested the right guy. She asked the officers if they had recovered the gun. The officers noted that at first, this woman was standing outside of the defendant’s view and seemed to be nervous. She later told them that she had called 911 because she saw the defendant with the gun and bullets. She told the officers that she saw the defendant put bullets in the trunk. Police asked the defendant if there was anything else in the car, and he confirmed that there were bullets in the trunk.

The trial court denied the motion to suppress. The defense argued that at the time of the stop, police were relying on an entirely anonymous radio call and had no way to verify whether the call, no matter how specific, contained accurate and reliable information. Decades of Pennsylvania case law, including Commonwealth v. Jackson and Commonwealth v. Hawkins, have held that anonymous tips do not provide police with any level of reasonable suspicion or probable cause to make a stop unless the police are able to corroborate that information prior to the stop. Nonetheless, relying on a recent United States Supreme Court case, the trial court found that police had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant based on the 911 call. The court reasoned, possibly without supporting evidence, that the 911 call center in Philadelphia has caller ID and can track who made the call, thereby ensuring that calls to 911 are not actually anonymous. Because people know that they may be tracked when calling 911, the court reasoned, they have an incentive not to call in with fake accusations. Therefore, the court denied the motion to suppress, and the defendant was eventually convicted of all of the gun charges.

The Superior Court Appeal

The defendant appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. Breaking with decades of precedent, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s reasoning. It also inexplicably concluded that because the 911 call center has caller ID, people would never call in incorrect information to 911 in order to harass someone else. Obviously, this reasoning is absurd and completely ignores the fact that most school-age children possess the technological prowess to use a “burner” phone or mask their true phone number or caller ID with an app. It also erroneously assumes that everyone knows (and cares) that their cell phone number could be tracked by 911 if they make a call. Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress.

It is highly likely that this opinion will be appealed further. It is also important to note that the opinion relies entirely on federal law as the defendant in this case did not advance the argument that the Pennsylvania Constitution provides greater protections against stops based on anonymous tips than the United States Constitution. Whether such arguments will work in the future remains an open question. Finally, the tip in this case was extremely specific down to the make and model of the car, the defendant’s clothing, and the license plate of the vehicle. Nonetheless, this case substantially expands the power of the police to make stops based on anonymous radio calls. Such a power is extremely problematic because of the ease with which any citizen may mask his or her identity and call in an anonymous and false complaint against someone else to harass them. Normally, police are required to show that information was at least relatively trustworthy prior to acting on it. This opinion eliminates that requirement.

FACING CRIMINAL CHARGES? WE CAN HELP.

Goldstein Mehta LLC Criminal Defense

Goldstein Mehta LLC Criminal Defense

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 in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, VUFA, Rape, and Attempted 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.