Police Observation, Reasonable Suspicion, and Probable Cause
Our law firm handles a number of cases involving the illegal possession of narcotics and firearms in Pennsylvania. In many of these cases, a person is arrested following police officer’s observation of them in what the officers classify as an alleged drug transaction. In many of these cases, the officers don’t actually observe drugs but rather, a hand to hand transaction involving money for unknown items. It’s important to keep in mind that a transaction, in and of itself, does not provide police officers enough reasonable suspicion to perform an investigative detention and obviously not enough to establish probable cause to arrest.
Reasonable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause – Police Officer Experience and Training
As I have written in previous articles, reasonable suspicion is a lower form of probable cause, and there cannot be the former without the latter. In Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court has ruled that a police officer who has a substantial amount of experience in narcotics enforcement can perform an investigative detention utilizing that experience. In other words, if the prosecution (assistant district attorney) can establish a nexus between that experience and what he observed; it may be enough to establish at least reasonable suspicion for an investigative detention.
The investigative detention does not allow the officer to arrest but it does allow him to perform a stop and frisk of that suspect. If the frisk reveals items that the officer believes to be contraband based on his experience and training, he may seize them. If the items are contraband obviously they establish probable cause to arrest. Read my 10 rules about police traffic stops
Motion To Suppress Evidence
There is a significant amount of case law in Pennsylvania which indicates that the observation of one transaction alone, of unidentified items, without establishing a “nexus” doesn’t provide police with reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause. This is very important to understand because the strongest defense in any illegal firearm, gun, narcotics, and drug cases is usually a pre-trial motion to suppress evidence.
If the evidence is admissible, the only other defense would be to establish a lack of actual or constructive possession. This is nearly impossible if the contraband is found on the person at the time of the arrest. If you are charged with an illegal gun or narcotic offense, it is important that your attorney explore pre-trial motion to suppress evidence.
The most common Gun and Firearm Offenses in Pennsylvania are the following:
- Title 18 Section 6105—Person Not Possess Firearms
· Title 18 Section 6106—Firearms Not To Be Carried Without a License
· Title 18, Section 6018—Carrying Firearms on Public Streets in Philadelphia
· Title 18, Section 6110.2—Possession of Firearms With altered Manufacturer’s Number
The most common New Jersey gun and firearms offenses under its Graves Act, 2C:39-1, are the following
· 2C:39-4—Possession of weapons for unlawful purposes
· 2C:39-4.1—Possession of weapons, Controlled Dangerous Substance (CDS)
· 2C:39-5—Unlawful Possession of weapons
For more information on criminal cases involving the possession of illegal drugs, narcotics, handguns and firearms, please keep reading this blog and visit my free download section