Attorney Gerson has judge strike evidence in unlawful search and seizure in drug case
Last week, a judge in the Allegheny County Courts of Common Pleas granted a Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence, finding my client was unlawfully detained, resulting in an illegal search of his backpack and seizure of approximately ten pounds of marijuana as he departed from a Megabus in downtown Pittsburgh. City of Pittsburgh Police claimed they received an anonymous tip that a “black male, wearing a hat and carrying a backpack” and “possibly carrying narcotics” would be arriving on a Megabus from Michigan. No specific description was provided as to the black male’s age, height, weight, build, hair style, or facial hair; nor was specific information provided as to the style, color, brand, or logo of the hat and backpack. Significantly, the tipster was unable to identify the type or quantity of controlled substances possessed by the “black male.” When my client and other black males departed from the bus, each was approached by a uniformed police officer. When my client was asked to provide identification, he handed the officer his wallet and driver’s license; and was told he matched the physical description of an individual arriving from Detroit who might be carrying drugs. At that time, the officer claimed he requested permission and my client gave consent to search the back pack, which resulting in the seizure of almost ten pounds of marijuana. During the search, my client unsuccessfully attempted to flee, and was ultimately charged with Possession with Intent to Deliver a Controlled Substance, Possession of a Controlled Substance, and Resisting Arrest. During argument on the pre-trial motions, I emphasized the original police-civilian interaction was not a mere encounter, but rather an investigative detention that was not supported by reasonable suspicion. I noted the generic description of the suspect, the unreliability of anonymous tips, and lack of predictive behavior provided by the tipster. Moreover, I pointed out the coercive atmosphere created by my client being told he fit the description of the subject of a criminal investigation, and that no reasonable person would feel free to walk away under the circumstances. The judge agreed that my client was unlawfully “seized” for purposes of analysis under the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and suppressed all evidence resulting from the illegal search and seizure that resulted from it. Consequently, there will be no evidence for the offer at trial, and all originally-filed charges will be withdrawn by the Commonwealth.