The Supreme Court of the United States, or SCOTUS, recently issued a holding on a drug case that will likely impact Pennsylvania drug law. This case addressed how the use of narcotics trained dogs can bring into question the basic protections against unreasonable searches guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment.
The case involved a man who was pulled over by a police officer due to an expired license plate. When the officer approached the vehicle, he noticed an open container of alcohol and requested a search of the vehicle. The driver declined the search.
The officer, a member of the canine unit, then brought his dog Aldo to the vehicle for a “free air sniff” search. He led the dog around the vehicle to sniff for the presence of drugs. The dog alerted to the potential presence of drugs near the driver’s side door. Based on this alert, the officer argued he had probable cause to search the entire vehicle. During the search, the officer found various ingredients used in the production of methamphetamine.
The evidence found during this search led to drug charges. The driver argued that the dog’s alert was not sufficient to justify a search. As a result, the driver argued the search was a violation of his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Ultimately, the court disagreed. The justices found that as long as a drug-sniffing dog receives proper training an alert is sufficient to justify a search.
Impact on Pennsylvania drug law
Rulings issued by SCOTUS are followed throughout the country and will likely impact drug charges in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person knowingly possessed an illegal substance.
The case above outlines one defense that can be used against drug charges: unlawful search and seizure. Although the court found that narcotics trained dogs can be used to search a vehicle for the presence of drugs, the justices also noted that anyone charged with a drug crime must have an opportunity to question the dog’s training. If he or she can establish the dog was not properly trained, the evidence that resulted from the search may be thrown out.
There are various defenses that can be used against drug charges in addition to an unlawful search. These defenses include a lack of intent, lack of knowledge, presence of a prescription and that the drugs did not belong to the person charged with the crime. If you or a loved one is charged with a drug crime in Pennsylvania, it is important to contact an experienced Pennsylvania drug crime lawyer to help determine which defense works best in your situation and better ensure your legal rights are protected.