Our firm represented a responsible Pennsylvania gun owner who unfortunately was charged with illegal possession of narcotics following the search of his home around the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.
Our client was originally charged following an alleged incident between him and another man within his apartment located on or around the campus. While our client isn’t a student at the University, Penn Police are licensed police officers within the Commonwealth and are permitted to make arrests. Police in this case responded to a radio call and arrested our client outside of his home because he met the description that the alleged victim provided to police. While our client was never charged with terroristic threats, aggravated assault, or anything related to this alleged victim, police recovered illegal narcotics within his home along with 2 firearms, a .38 revolver and an AR15 assault rifle. The guns in this case were legally possessed. Remember that in the Commonwealth, unlike New Jersey, you do not need a license to possess a gun in your home or place of business, just a license to carry it concealed. Police did not have a search warrant for the home but allegedly entered the property because they believed that a protective sweep of the area was necessary for their own safety.
Warrantless Searches & Homes
It’s important to keep in mind that all searches done without a warrant in Pennsylvania are on their surface illegal. There are a number of exceptions to the warrant requirement, but most of these exceptions pertain to areas outside the home, such as vehicles or cars. If the police do want to search a home without a warrant, they need exigent circumstances, which is either hot pursuit of a suspect into a home or a protective sweep of an area incident to arrest.
A protective sweep however, only permits police to do visualize observations of rooms and search areas where a person could reasonably hide. Protective sweeps do not authorize police to look into cabinets, trash cans, or any other areas like drawers. Here, police claim that they found drugs and weapons inside the home, but were not authorized to go inside the home without a warrant because our client was arrested outside of his home. A protective sweep, in this case, would only allow police to search the area outside the home and there was no evidence that there was anyone inside the home who could potentially cause police harm. Further, even if police entered the home on an authorized protective sweep, the illegal narcotics were found in a trash can, which isn’t an area where a person could reasonably hide.
The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, along with Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, protect citizens against illegal search and seizure. If a criminal defense lawyer does not file a Motion to Suppress evidence, he can only dispute criminal charges based on an actual or constructed possession theory. It is often difficulty, if not impossible, for a defense to be successful on such a theory because the prosecution can establish actual possession simply through police testimony or any civilian testimony. Remember, actual possession is where contraband is found on the individuals’ person, and constructive possession is where it is found in one’s area of immediate control.
A motion to suppress is a powerful pre-trial motion in any case involving illegal drugs, narcotics, guns, or firearms. For more great information on criminal defense tactics and strategies, visit our free download section.