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Police search of vehicle leads to drug charges

In criminal cases involving drug charges in the Pittsburgh area, one thing that most defense attorneys look for is whether the evidence being used against their client was legally obtained by the police. Most people know that officers generally need a search warrant to enter their homes, but people in motor vehicles also have some protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. If those rights are violated, under the exclusionary rule any evidence gathered against a suspect during an illegal search may be suppressed in court.

Before stopping a vehicle, police in Pittsburgh must have a reasonable suspicion that the vehicle's occupants are committing a crime or have just done so. That could be an issue in the recent arrest of four teenagers, three of whom are from Pittsburgh, on suspicion of drug trafficking, conspiracy and weapons charges. The four were pulled over the evening of Jan. 7 by state police in Westmoreland County. Officers conducted a search of the vehicle and claim to have found several small bags of heroin, a small amount of marijuana and a handgun.

A news report about the drug arrests does not mention what caused the police to pull over the suspects in the first place. Traffic violations are a frequent justification for police stops, but it does not appear the driver of the vehicle is accused of speeding, running a red light or so on. If the arresting officer cannot present a reason for pulling the suspects over, the evidence allegedly seized during the stop might not be allowed to be used against them at trial.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune Review, "Four teens face drug charges in Salem," Stacey Federoff, Jan. 9, 2013

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