Suppression of Illegally Obtained Evidence
Steven Knecht successfully obtained the dismissal of a felony drug possession case last week due to the filing of a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from an illegal, warrantless search.
Excerpts from the trial court's order suppressing the evidence form the improper search, with names deleted, as follows:
On April 9, 2016, officers from the Lafayette Police Department were dispatched to [a residence] after receiving a call from a resident living in the same building. The resident reported smelling the odor of marijuana and visibly seeing the evidence of drug us through the ground level window of the defendant's apartment. The resident told dispatch he could see into the window while standing on the public sidewalk. The resident told the officers on scene that he had called the police more than once about the drug use as he has children in his home and was concerned for their safety.
Officers arrived on scene. Officer #1 testified he was able to look through this same window while standing on the public sidewalk and see into the living room thru the parted curtains. Visible was a grinder, wrappers, ziplock baggies of suspected marijuana and four males.
Officer #1 directed Officer #2 to make contact with the occupants by knocking on the front door while he remained on the sidewalk and watching thru the window. Officer #2 knocked on the front door. Officer #1 saw three of the males get up from the sofa while the fourth male, later identified as the defendant, walked to the front door, looked thru the peep hole and asked who was knocking.
When Officer #2 answered, "LPD", Officer #1 could see the occupants looking around as if trying to figure out "what to do now". Officer #2 heard someone from inside the apartment say, "Oh shit." She could also smell the odor of marijuana while standing at the door. Officer #1 saw the defendant turn around and talk to the others while one male picked up the marijuana and a pill container. The door had still not been answered. The male disappeared from Officer #1's view and the defendant shut the window curtains completely.
Fearing the occupants were destroying evidence, Officer #1 instructed Officer #2 to make entry into the defendant's home. The defendant then did open the front door but did not unlatch the security chain. Officer #1 forced entry. Officers detained all occupants at gun point.
Officers quickly made a protective search of the apartment for any other persons and did a pat down of the occupants to search for weapons only. After searching the sofa cushions for weapons, the occupants were instructed to sit on the sofa. Officers asked the defendant if he would consent to a search of his home. He declined. Officers then applied for and were granted a search warrant. This process took several hours.
A search warrant was obtained and the defendant's home was searched. Located during the search were some marijuana ad items of drug paraphernalia including a scale, clear plastic baggies, pipe, grinder, rolling papers, and a needle.
The exigent circumstances relied upon by the State — destruction of evidence — existed in large part because the officers knocked on the defendant's front door and alerted the occupants ot the presence of police. Was it possible that waiting to obtain a search warrant may have resulted in the consumption of the relatively small amount of marijuana found in the defenedant's home? Yes. However, but for the knock on the front door, the defendant and the occupants would likely not have known the police were able to see inside the the apartment window, view items of suspected drug use and would be returning with a search warrant. The items of drug paraphernalia would most likely still have been present and could have been legally seized with a properly issued search warrant.
For these reasons, the Motion to Suppress is granted.
With over 30 years of trial experience, Steven Knecht is familiar with possible defenses to drug possession and other criminal charges. If you find yourself having been arrested, you should immediately hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer that you can trust such as Steven Knecht to help you fight the State because you have a lot at stake on the outcome.