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Federal civil rights suit follows mishandled drug trafficking cas

When Pennsylvania readers hear news of a drug crimes case, it is virtually always from the perspective of law enforcement. In most cases, the side of the accused party does not come out in media reports, which are largely based on arrest records and brief public statements. This can lead to a very one-sided view of drug crime, and the impression that every individual charged with drug trafficking or possession at the state or federal level is guilty of those crimes. A recent news story shows just how flawed those assumptions can be.

Around this time of year in 2013, a couple were driving along I-78 in a rented Mercedes-Benz when they were pulled over by a state trooper. The trooper made the stop because the vehicle was travelling at nearly 60 mph on a stretch of roadway with a speed limit of 55. The vehicle was also reportedly "riding a traffic line" for nearly half of a mile.

When the trooper approached the car, he questioned the female driver about an odor of marijuana; she replied that she had used the drug earlier in the day, but not within the vehicle. When the trooper received permission to search the car, he found two packages of white powder wrapped in plastic and red tape. The woman told the trooper that the packages were homemade soap that she was bringing to her sister as a gift. The trooper conducted a field test of the subject, and determined that it was cocaine. Both occupants of the vehicle were arrested and taken to jail.

They were each charged with possession of cocaine and intent to deliver, possession of drug paraphernalia and conspiracy. The man was jailed for 29 days, missed Thanksgiving with his family and has incurred thousands of dollars in legal fees. In the end, the white powder that led to these drug trafficking charges was determined to be nothing more than soap. He has now filed a civil rights lawsuit in the matter, and is asking for more than $150,000 in damages. As this case illustrates, not everyone who is charged with a serious drug crime in Pennsylvania is in fact guilty of those accusations, whether at the state or federal level.     

Source: mcall.com, "Man jailed after cops mistook soap for cocaine on I-78 files suit", Laurie Mason Schroeder, Nov. 16, 2015

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