Posted On: October 29, 2008

Pennsylvania Superior Court Rules Reliability of a Confidential Informant is a Factor when Determining Reasonable Suspicion

The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled recently in the case of Commonwealth v. Brown, regarding a police stop and seizure based on information obtained from a confidential informant. Thomas Brown was stopped by police in the Northeast section of Philadelphia, after police received information that Brown was to participate in a drug transaction at the corner of Academy Road and Grant Avenue, within a two-hour timeframe. Police arrived at the intersection and observed Brown appear, exit his vehicle, and return to his vehicle with a brown paper bag. Police subsequently stopped the vehicle and searched the car, finding bottles of pills, a firearm in the trunk, and a tally book in the glove compartment.

At trial, Brown argued that he had a possessory interest in the car, requiring police to have either Brown’s permission or probable cause to search the vehicle. The trial court determined that Brown was driving the vehicle when he was stopped, the vehicle he was driving was known to the police through the confidential informant, and the vehicle had not been reported stolen. There was also no evidence that the owner of the vehicle did not give permission to Brown to use the vehicle. Therefore, the court determined that Brown in fact did have a possessory interest in the vehicle.

Upon this finding, the police were required to have a reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle. Reasonable suspicion is dependant upon both the content of the information possessed by police and its degree of reliability. The Commonwealth produced no evidence to show that the confidential informant used in this case had been reliable in the past; rather that the CI had merely been “used” in the past. The Superior Court agreed with the trial court that the information obtained from the confidential informant had not been proven reliable. The issue therefore became whether an unreliable source who gives information of a car appearing at a busy intersection within a two-hour timeframe, with nothing else, was enough to satisfy the reasonable suspicion requirement. The Court agreed that it did not, and further stated that witnessing the driver return to his vehicle with a brown paper bag was not illegal and did not corroborate with the CI’s information. The illegality of the police stop and seizure was upheld by the Superior Court.

Drug offenses are serious matters in Pennsylvania; certain offenses such as trafficking are considered felonies and carry mandatory minimum sentences. The Fourth Amendment of the United States’ Constitution affords individual rights pertaining to police search and seizure. Very often, an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney will have evidence found inadmissible due to an illegal police search, and will have charges against the defendant dropped or greatly reduced.

If you have been charged with a drug offense, contact the Law Offices of Marc Neff immediately. We are glad to assist you in your defense.

Posted On: October 20, 2008

Philadelphia Teen Sentenced to 25-50 Years in Prison for Attempted Murder of Philadelphia Police Officers

A Philadelphia teenager was sentenced this week for an incident which occurred last November in which two Philadelphia Police officers were wounded. The teenager was a run-away who was living illegally in a Northeast Philadelphia; unbeknownst to the owner and property manager. He and his cousin ran an operation from a room in the house in which they would sell crack-cocaine out-of the window.

On November 13, 2007, a dozen officers from the Philadelphia Police’s Narcotics Field Unit arrived at the home with a search warrant, announcing themselves when they arrived. Instantaneously, bullets began flying out-of the rear bedroom window of the house; the teen had grabbed a Glock-pistol and began firing. Two officers were wounded, one shot in the leg and the other in the hip. When the bullets stopped, the officers carefully entered the home and arrested the two men.

The teenager pled guilty to attempted murder, recklessly endangering another person, weapons, drugs, and criminal-trespass offenses in July. At his sentencing hearing this week, he stated that he was unaware that the people outside on the day of the incident were police officers, and had he had known, he would never have fired on officers doing their job. The officers, however, announced themselves as police officers and were either in uniform or plain-clothed with bullet-proof vests, displaying police across the chest. He was sentenced to 25-50 years in prison for the charges stemming from the November incident. His cousin pled guilty to drug offenses and will be sentenced next week.

Felony Crimes

Felony offenses are the most serious crimes and carry potential prison sentences of over one year if convicted. In Pennsylvania, violent crimes committed while visibly possessing a firearm carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 5-years in prison if convicted. Other circumstances can increase the sentence.

If you have been charged with a felony criminal offense, contact the Law Offices of Marc Neff immediately. We will assist you in your defense and can potentially lessen or eliminate the charges against you.

Posted On: October 17, 2008

United States Supreme Court Denies Motions of Obese Ohio Man Sentenced to Death

The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the Federal Government, and as such State Governments, via the Fourteenth Amendment, from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishments for people charged and/or convicted of criminal offenses. For years, arguments whether the death penalty constitutes excessive or cruel and unusual punishment have been heard by many courts across the nation, both federal and state. For Richard Cooey, however, the death penalty in general was not of his concern but rather how the death penalty applied in his specific case. Cooey, an Ohio man, was convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering two University of Akron students in 1986. His co-defendant received life imprisonment for his role in the crimes, due to the fact he was only seventeen when the incident occurred. Cooey was sentenced to death.

Cooey appealed to the Ohio state courts and the United States Supreme Court, arguing that Ohio’s lethal injection process would not be humane due to his obesity. Cooey, who is 5’-7” and 267 pounds argues that his obesity will make it extremely difficult to find viable veins in his arm to be used as the injection site. The United States Supreme Court denied his appeal early this week, just as the Ohio State Appellate Court and State Supreme Court had earlier. The U.S. Supreme Court chose not to rule on Cooey’s second motion which is still awaiting a ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court. In his second motion, Cooey argues that Ohio’s lethal injection protocol will cause an agonizing and painful death. Ohio uses a three-injection cocktail, as many states use for lethal injections. One of the three injections is an anesthetic which Cooey argues will have a reduced effect due to migraine medication he is prescribed. Cooey petitioned the Court to order the state to use a single injection method, rather than three. His attorney’s cited two past cases in Ohio, in which men of similar sizes to Cooey had their sizes cause complications during the injections; the last man executed had his execution delayed nearly 2-hours because viable veins could not be found. As Cooey awaits a ruling on the issue, he has been transferred to the “death house” where he passed a pre-execution examination and awaits his punishment.

Capital Crimes

Capital crimes, or capital offenses, are those crimes which are punishable by death. Generally, capital punishment is only associated with first-degree homicide, however it can also apply to crimes of treason, espionage, other crimes against the United States, or as part of military justice. Capital offenses are governed by both state law and federal law, depending on the crime.

If you are under investigation or have been charged with a capital offense, it is imperative that you contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. Marc Neff is experienced in successfully defending people suspected or charged with all criminal offenses. Our office works closely with experts in the fields of DNA, forensic toxicologists, forensic pathologists, and others. For a confidential consultation, contact Mr. Neff at (215) 563-9800 or via email Marc@nefflawoffices.com.

Posted On: October 9, 2008

New Jersey Man Sentenced to Six-Years in Federal Prison for Role in Heroin Ring

A Pennsauken, New Jersey resident was sentenced earlier this week for his role in a Philadelphia area heroin ring in 2005 and 2006. The heroin sold by Castellar and his associates was laced with a powerful painkiller, fentanyl, which caused over 100 deaths in the Philadelphia region due to overdose. The operation was run out of a rented house in Pennsauken. Castellar admitted to selling the spiked heroin in bulk to dealers, as well as in smaller quantities to drug users and addicts. Castellar and his six associates came to the attention of authorities in 2006, when a naked man was spotted running from the rented home in Pennsauken screaming about gunmen invading the property; heroin-mill workers are typically forced to work in the nude to prevent stealing of the product.

The prosecution could not prove that Castellar’s ring was responsible for all of the laced heroin produced and sold during the two-year span, however showed that fentanyl related deaths declined sharply following his arrest in 2006. Castellar has been imprisoned since his arrest and pled guilty to conspiring to distribute over 100 grams of heroin in April 2007. He was sentenced this week to six-years in a federal prison, followed by five-years of probation following his release.

Drug Possession

Possession of a controlled substance is a crime which carries many harsh penalties. Depending on the quantity of controlled substance you are found to possess, you may even be charged with intent to deliver or drug trafficking. Such charges carry even greater penalties. In Pennsylvania, possessing over fifty grams of heroin with intent to traffic carries a minimum penalty of 5 year in prison for a first offense, and 7 years for subsequent offenses. A person may also be charged federally, as in the case above, which carries federally mandated minimum sentences to be served in federal prison.

Drug offenses are serious matters which involve serious penalties. If you have been charged with a drug offense, there are many defenses which may be available, including challenging the constitutionality of a police search. Contact a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer immediately, so that your situation can be assessed and a defense to your charges can be developed.

Posted On: October 7, 2008

Pennsylvania Superior Court Upholds Mandatory Minimum Sentence for Man Convicted on Multiple Counts of Drug Trafficking

A man convicted, after pleading guilty to six-counts of possessing a controlled substance with intent to deliver (“PWID”) and criminal conspiracy, appealed his sentence to the Pennsylvania Superior Court on the basis he was not advised that his convictions were subject to Pennsylvania mandatory minimum statutes. The appellant, Michael Rush, was sentenced to concurrent terms of seven to fourteen years for each PWID count and concurrent terms of five to ten years for each criminal conspiracy count; an aggregate sentence of twelve to twenty-four years in prison. The trial court applied Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum statute to the PWID charges. The statute considers factors such as the type of controlled substance involved, the amount seized, and the amount of capital used or available for use in the operation; when imposing a fine, the minimum fine may be increased so as to prevent a convicted felon from being able to continue the operation after being penalized. The mandatory minimum statute also increases the minimum sentence when a person has a prior conviction for PWID.

Michael Rush appealed first on the issue that he was not aware he was subject to mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking; had he known, he would have withdrawn his guilty plea. The Pennsylvania Superior Court held that this argument had no merit because the appellant could not show that his claim was preserved for appeal. In order to withdraw a guilty plea, a motion must be made in the trial court. Not only did Rush fail to do so, but the court determined that he could not support a motion with relevant arguments even if he had. Rush’s second issue on appeal is the determination of the mandatory minima applied. The relevant statute provides that a mandatory minimum sentence of four years imprisonment applies to a conviction of PWID with the circumstances in this case. The statute also provides for a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years when a person has a prior conviction for drug trafficking. Rush argued that he did not have a prior conviction before being sentenced on the six-counts in this case. The Court, however, determined that pleading guilty to each count constituted a prior conviction at the time of sentencing. The Court further found that one of the six convictions, although technically his first, was not subject to the four year minimum because at the time of sentencing, Rush had other convictions. Therefore, the Court affirmed appellant’s sentence of twelve to twenty-four years.

Drug Possession

Possession of a controlled substance is a crime which carries many harsh penalties. Depending on the quantity of controlled substance you are found to possess, you may even be charged with intent to deliver or drug trafficking. Such charges carry even greater penalties. For example, possessing between 2 and 10 grams of crack-cocaine with intent to traffic carries a minimum penalty of 1 year in prison for a first offense, and 3 years for subsequent offenses. Larger quantities mandate longer minimum sentences as well.

Drug offenses are serious matters which involve serious penalties. If you have been charged with a drug offense, there are many defenses which may be available. Contact a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer immediately, so that your situation can be assessed and a defense to your charges can be developed.