Answers to 5 Most Common Questions About Drug Crimes in PA

Answers to 5 Most Common Questions About Drug Crimes in PAFew people expect to have legal troubles and face criminal penalties for drug crimes in Pennsylvania. But life can take unexpected turns and leave individuals battling drug addictions, no matter their age or background. If you or a loved one face criminal charges relating to narcotics or illegal substances, it is vital to consult an experienced drug crime defense attorney about your situation. 

Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, P.C. attorneys have defended individuals facing a wide range of drug crimes throughout Pennsylvania and are here to help you build a powerful defense against any criminal charges you face. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding drug crimes in Pennsylvania.

1. What Must the Prosecution Prove to Convict Someone for Drug Distribution versus Simple Possession?

Possession is a component of both simple drug possession, a misdemeanor charge, and possession with intent to distribute, which is a felony offense. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was intent to distribute, sell, or deliver a narcotic or controlled substance to another individual to convict them for felony drug distribution.

There are two ways the prosecution will generally establish intent to distribute:

  • Observation: When a witness, who is often law enforcement, is called by the prosecution to testify that they observed the sale of drugs.
  • Expert witness: When a drug expert testifies an intent to distribute or sell drugs based on circumstantial evidence that may include scales, a vacuum sealer, and money.

While apprehending someone with a large quantity of drugs may indicate an intent to distribute, there is legal precedent that informs us that a significant amount isn’t always enough. The Commonwealth is required to prove more than just the amount of drugs, they must have evidence of distribution.

2. Can Police Search My Vehicle If They Smell Marijuana?

In prior years, Pennsylvania police did not need a warrant to search a driver’s vehicle if they had probable cause to do so. Formerly, the smell of cannabis would have provided probable cause for law enforcement to conduct a warrantless search. However, with the changing legal landscape permitting the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, warrantless searches of vehicles are may no longer accepted based on the smell of marijuana alone. Pennsylvania courts are actively analyzing this issue in cases being reviewed on appeal. 

According to Lehigh County Judge Maria Dantos in the case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Timothy Oliver Barr, II: 

“The ‘plain smell’ of marijuana alone no longer provides authorities with probable cause to conduct a search of a subject vehicle,” because it’s “no longer indicative of an illegal or criminal act.”

3. If Police Found Drugs in the Trunk of a Car I Was Driving but Did Not Own, Can I Still Be Convicted for a Drug Crime?

Yes, you can be convicted for a drug crime if drugs were found in the trunk of a vehicle you were driving, even if you did not own that vehicle. The prosecution can convict a person for a drug crime through:

  • Actual possession: when drugs are found on your person
  • Constructive possession: when drugs are found in your area of control and in a position where you can exercise dominion and control over them.

With drugs being in the trunk of a vehicle, the prosecution will attempt to introduce evidence that proves a strong connection between the defendant and the drugs, like if their personal belongings were with or close to the drugs. While the specific facts determine each case, it is possible for the prosecution to convict someone for possession of drugs that were found in the trunk of a car they were driving.

4. Can Police Search My Home without a Warrant, Even If I Tell Them No? 

In most cases, no, the police cannot search your house without a warrant authorizing them to do so. While few exceptions permit the police to search your home without a warrant, like when chasing a suspect in hot pursuit and the suspect flees into a house—known as exigent circumstances—these instances are rare.

There is a high level of constitutional protection of privacy over your house that exceeds the expectation of privacy to your car. It’s important to note that, like your vehicle, you should never permit law enforcement to search your property without a warrant.

5. When Can Police Use a Drug Dog to Search My Vehicle? 

Police only need reasonable suspicion that drugs are in your possession to search your vehicle with a drug dog. The standard for reasonable suspicion is much lower than probable cause. Police can base reasonable suspicion on a driver’s behavior, like if they appear very nervous, sweaty, or provide answers to questions that don’t make sense to police—like, for example, if they are driving in the opposite direction of their stated destination. Remember, if pulled over by police, do not provide any further information than your basic contact information to avoid self-incrimination.

Talk to a Skilled Pennsylvania Drug Crime Defense Lawyer for Free Today 

While these are excellent guidelines to answer some of the most common questions we receive from our clients, every situation is different with unique details. For answers to your specific case, talk to one of our experienced criminal defense lawyers who can explain your legal options in light of your circumstances. Our criminal defense lawyers have defended clients facing drug cries in Montgomery County and across Southeastern Pennsylvania for over 65 years. Talk to one of our knowledgeable drug crime defense attorneys about your situation over a free consultation by calling 215-822-7575 or complete a contact form today.