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Pittsburgh woman may be able to withdraw guilty plea in drug case

A Pittsburgh woman may be able to withdraw her recent guilty plea in a drug case because police accidently destroyed evidence crucial to her defense.

The woman admitted Monday to possessing more than 100 grams of heroin. However, she may be able to take back the plea if she wins an appeal to have the drug charges dismissed because police destroyed her change purse, which allegedly contained the drugs she's accused of possessing. The change purse was accidentally destroyed when police were cleaning out a drug- evidence room that had ventilation problems. A judge has already determined that the police did not destroy the evidence intentionally.

But the woman's lawyer is saying her case depends on the jury seeing that the change purse could have been zipped closed with the drugs inside, which the woman alleges it was when she was pulled over in May 2008. A police officer said he saw bricks of heroin sticking out of the open change purse, which led to a search of the woman's vehicle and home. Those investigations turned up more drugs and weapons. The woman, however, claims that the change purse was zipped shut, meaning the officer never saw the drugs and therefore that all three searches were illegal.

The woman faces up to 40 years in prison and will be sentenced October 20.

The woman's situation should be a reminder to Pittsburgh residents that no matter the charge, the legal system has procedures that must be followed, including evidence requirements. Even if the situation seems dire, an experienced legal professional who knows the ins and outs of the process may be of more assistance than you might think.

Source: The Columbus Republic, "Pittsburgh woman pleads guilty to federal drug charges, but still appealing 'burned evidence," 21 June 2011.

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