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Pittsburgh heroin trial proceeds with evidence up in smoke

A U.S. court has ruled that the trial of a Pittsburgh-area woman accused of drug trafficking charges will move forward, even though attorneys will have to do without some of the evidence. Allegedly, police had confiscated heroin and the suspect's purse at the time of the 32-year-old woman's arrest and placed the items in the city's drug evidence room, where they were burned and destroyed during a recent housecleaning.

The Beechview suspect, charged with planning to deal over 100 grams of heroin, will go to trial even though the woman's public defender told the federal judge that the loss of evidence hurts the defendant's case. Had the purse not been incinerated, the lawyer said, the woman could have argued that the bag contained a zipper that prevented someone from seeing inside. Police reports say an officer was able to see heroin in the purse, which allowed him to conduct further searches.

The federal judge refused to suppress evidence or reduce any of the suspect's charges, although he did admit that the evidence destruction did not follow normal procedures. Instead, the judge ruled that the incinerated purse and heroin were not destroyed on purpose, but only as a result of lack of communication among courts, lawyers and the police.

The judge said the woman's case had moved from a state to a federal court, causing a misunderstanding with the police and district attorney's office.

The judge also advised the alleged drug dealer's lawyer that the defense had never made it clear, until after the purse and the heroin had been accidentally destroyed as evidence, that the items were needed to help prove the defendant's innocence.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Heroin case to continue despite burning of evidence," Rich Lord, 4/19/2011

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