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Pennsylvania Appeals Court Upholds DUI-Related Drug Convictions

A defendant appealed from the judgment of a sentence of nine to 16 months’ imprisonment entered in the York County Court of Common Pleas following his bench trial convictions of DUI, possession of a small amount of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, and driving under suspension, DUI-related. He challenged the sufficiency of the evidence for his possession of a small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia convictions. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed his conviction.

The defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient because the Commonwealth failed to establish he constructively possessed the marijuana or drug paraphernalia found in the vehicle he was driving. He contended that the evidence did not prove that he knew the drugs or drug paraphernalia were in the vehicle or that he intended to possess or exercise dominion over the drugs. He emphasized that the vehicle in question belonged to his wife, and, as a passenger at the time in question, she was within arm’s reach of the contraband. Therefore, he claimed the evidence failed to establish that he was responsible for the drugs and drug paraphernalia in the car. Thus, he argued that the court should vacate his judgment of sentence. The Pennsylvania Superior Court found to the contrary that no relief was due.

In sufficiency of evidence cases, the reviewing court examines whether, viewing all of the evidence admitted in the light most favorable to the verdict winner, there is sufficient evidence to enable the fact finder to find every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Applying this test, the appeals court may not weigh the evidence and substitute its judgment for that of the fact-finder. In addition, the appeals court noted that the facts and circumstances established by the Commonwealth need not preclude every possibility of innocence. When reviewing a sufficiency claim after a conviction, a court is required to give the prosecution the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence.

After a thorough review of the record, the briefs of the parties, the applicable law, and the trial court’s opinion, the appeals court concluded the trial court’s opinion properly disposed of the defendant’s argument regarding constructive possession. The totality of the circumstances supported the conclusion that he was in constructive possession of the drugs and drug paraphernalia, since the responding officer testified that he detected a strong odor of freshly burnt marijuana upon stopping the car and that the defendant’s demeanor was, in his experience, consistent with an individual who was under the influence of marijuana. Also, the burnt ends of two marijuana “blunts” were recovered from beneath the visor on the passenger’s side of the car, an area easily accessible by the defendant, and contraband indicated, circumstantially, that two people were likely smoking. Finally, he had time to attempt to conceal the contraband because he failed to stop for a half mile after the responding officer signaled him. Accordingly, the appeals court affirmed on the basis of the trial court’s opinion.

The judgment of sentence was affirmed.

Hiring the right attorney can make all of the difference in the world, even if your case seems straightforward or you have no criminal record.  If you find yourself arrested for a DUI, make sure you have a capable attorney on your side. Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney Zachary B. Cooper will be aggressive and can fight to make sure that your rights are protected so that your family and you can move on with your lives. Call (215) 542-0800 for a free consultation to discuss the legal options that may be available to you.

More Blog Posts:

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Upholds Defendant’s Resentencing Following New DUI Conviction, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, May 9, 2017.

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rejects Constitutionality Challenge to DUI Statute, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, May 1, 2017.

Pennsylvania Superior Court Holds DUI Arrest Supported by Reasonable Suspicion, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, April 13, 2017.