While police agencies in Pennsylvania are allowed to conduct DUI checkpoints to search for impaired drivers, they must follow specific procedures. For example, to be granted permission by the court to set up a checkpoint, police must establish a mathematical process for stopping vehicles -- say, every fourth vehicle -- to avoid the possibility of profiling, or detaining drivers based on their race, gender or any reason having nothing to do with their possible intoxication.
A former Pittsburgh police officer who faced 17 criminal charges at trial earlier in May was convicted of several charges but was found not guilty of nine of the charges. He was acquitted of promoting prostitution, theft and several other charges, likely reducing the sentence he will face.
Pittsburgh-born rapper Wiz Khalifa has avoided prosecution for alleged drug possession through a plead deal. In exchange for prosecutors dropping marijuana possession charges, the popular hip-hop artists made a public-service video encouraging children to make good life choices.
The federal government's War on Drugs rages on in the U.S. and the Pittsburgh area is not excluded from this campaign. Residents found guilty of drug possession or trafficking in federal court can expect to face potentially severe punishment under federal sentencing guidelines, which often include mandatory minimums. These congressionally-created guidelines often result in judges' ability to consider a defendant's individual circumstances are strictly limited.
Back on March 6, we discussed a pair of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court that could have a big impact on police powers in Pittsburgh versus the Fourth Amendment's search warrant requirement to prevent random, unlimited government searches of people and their personal property. The cases were heard by the Court simultaneously because they both involved police in the same state using a police dog to search for drugs without a warrant.
How much and under what circumstances should police in Pittsburgh and across the U.S. be empowered to search your home or vehicle based on a police dog's nose? That was the question before the Supreme Court last year when it heard oral arguments in two cases involving warrantless police searches justified by dog sniffs. In its first ruling on the cases, the Court unanimously ruled that an accidental identification of drug paraphernalia was rightfully allowed in court -- even though studies have strongly questioned whether dogs actually can be trained to alert police to the presence of illegal drugs.
An unusual and rarely used federal statute has been revived against two men who live about 45 miles outside of Pittsburgh. Federal prosecutors say the men caused a man to fatally overdose on heroin by selling him the drug. If convicted under the federal statute, the defendants could be sentenced to life in prison.
Getting hired to perform work on a military base may be a good opportunity for residents of the Pittsburgh area, but readers should be aware that the normal rules of police procedure and privacy rights may change once they get there. That may have come into play in the arrest of two men at the Air Force Reserve base near Pittsburgh on suspicion of drug possession. The men's vehicle was searched after a guard at the base claimed that he smelled marijuana in their vehicle.
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.
A Pennsylvania State Police trooper did not violate state law when he posed as someone else and exchanged text messages with a drug crimes suspect even though he did so without a warrant, the state Supreme Court recently ruled. The ruling, which is similar to amendments scheduled to go into effect to the state's Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act, means that law enforcement may not have to obtain a warrant before receiving electronic communications from people while posing as a civilian.