Traffic stops and seizure of drugs on Pennsylvania Turnpike
I am a Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney with extensive experience representing individuals charged with Delivery, Possession with Intent to Deliver or Possession of Controlled Substances in state and federal courts in Western Pennsylvania. Frequently, my clients are arrested based on the seizure of drugs resulting from a traffic stop. In Pennsylvania, a traffic stop is illegal unless police can articulate reasonable suspicion to believe a violation of the Vehicle Code has occurred or, alternatively, that a crime has just occurred, is ongoing, or about to occur. The law is also clear that police have no right to conduct vehicle search based on a summary offense violation of the Vehicle Code unless a warrant or consent is previously obtained. In my experience as a drug trafficking attorney, police will often contrive reasons to justify a traffic stop based on the race, age or state residency of the driver or occupants of a vehicle, as a "pretext" for conducting a vehicle search. My favorite case involved a young African-American from Pittsburgh who was stopped while driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Somerset County. The client had been followed for approximately 12 miles by a Pennsylvania State Police trooper. The reasonable suspicion to justify the stop was that my client was "driving at the posted speed limit" and the tires of his vehicle twice briefly crossed over a lane dividing line on the "S-curves" of that portion of the turnpike. After coercing a consent to search the vehicle, approximately 5 pounds of marijuana was seized from the trunk. I filed an Omnibus Pretrial Motion seeking suppression of all physical evidence and incriminating statements attributed to my client based on violations of the 4th, 5th, 6th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Ultimately, the trial rejected the trooper’s claim that there was reasonable suspicion to support the traffic stop because, "no one drives the speed limit on the turnpike" and granted suppression.