Fifteen grams of crack cocaine and a marijuana pipe cannot be used as evidence against a Loyalsock Township man because a state police officer illegally obtained it, a Lycoming County judge ruled today.
Judge Marc F. Lovecchio granted 32-year-old Steven L. Smith-Williams' motion to suppress evidence, filed by Assistant Public Defender Dance Drier on July 22, 2019, and argued on November 22, 2019.
"The items seized from Defendant and his jacket are not admissible in that they were illegally obtained," Judge Lovecchio wrote.
Montoursville State Police Trooper Jonathan Thompson exceeded the scope of a Terry frisk when he removed a marijuana pipe from Smith-Williams' pants pocket on December 30, 2018, Judge Lovecchio ruled.
Under Pennsylvania law, the premise of a Terry frisk is to detect the presence of weapons through the sense of touch, according to the ruling.
Trooper Thompson did not feel any weapons on Smith-Williams' person but felt a heavy, hard object believed to be a "smoking device," the ruling stated.
"There are many legal smoking devices such as tobacco pipes, for example...the court finds that the trooper exceeded the proper scope of a Terry frisk when he retrieved the 'heavy object' from Defendant’s pants pocket," Judge Lovecchio wrote.
Trooper Thompson also seized a plastic baggie protruding from Smith-Williams' jacket without consent or a warrant, according to the ruling.
Court records indicate the baggie contained 15 grams of crack cocaine.
"The portion of the baggie that the trooper observed was simply a corner...He did not notice any controlled substances in it or around it...[A] plastic baggie is not per se contraband; contents of baggie could have as easily contained the remains of appellant’s lunch," Judge Lovecchio wrote.
The only remaining evidence against Smith-Williams mentioned in the ruling was a gravity bong that his girlfriend retrieved from under the kitchen sink and provided to Trooper Thompson.
The incident began on December 30, 2018, when Trooper Thompson was investigating suspected drug activity near the Uni-Mart on Northway Road in Loyalsock Township, court records indicate.
While reviewing surveillance footage from the Uni-Mart, Trooper Thompson reportedly identified an individual in a red car possibly involved in drug activity.
The trooper discovered the possible suspect wore a black puffy jacket, was possibly known as "Steve" and possibly resided in the apartment complex across the street, court records stated.
Trooper Thompson reportedly identified the apartment and asked the woman who answered the door if "Steve" was there.
An individual named "Steve" then shut the front door and moved outside of the residence to speak with police, according to court documents.
When questioned about a red car, Smith-Williams reportedly denied involvement but became agitated when Trooper Thompson accused him of not being honest.
Trooper Thompson reportedly became concerned that Smith-Williams might have a weapon after he became agitated, "lied" about his prior activities and reached into his bulging pockets at least twice.
Concerned for his own safety, Trooper Thompson decided to frisk or pat down Smith-Williams for weapons, according to the ruling.
"The court concluded that although the officer was lawfully in a position to feel the lump in the defendant’s pocket, he exceeded the scope of a Terry search after concluding that the object was not a weapon," Lovecchio wrote.
After seizing the lump in the defendant's pocket, which turned out to be a marijuana pipe, a pizza was delivered to the residence, court records indicated.
As the door was being opened, Smith-Williams reportedly tried to push his way past troopers back into the residence.
"Trooper Thompson initially detained Defendant on the stoop but Defendant persisted in trying to reenter the premises. Accordingly, Trooper [William] Reynolds took Defendant into custody and placed him inside a patrol car," Lovecchio wrote.
That's when Smith-Williams' girlfriend, Brittany Fish, reportedly invited the troopers into the residence to continue the conversation.
While inside, Trooper Thompson saw what he believed to be the black puffy jacket from the Uni-Mart surveillance video, the ruling stated.
A “tail” of a plastic sandwich bag reportedly was protruding out of the pocket of the jacket.
While Trooper Thompson could not see whether the bag was knotted, the tail was “consistent” with a knotted bag used to possess controlled substances, the ruling stated.
Without consent or a search warrant, Trooper Thompson reportedly seized the sandwich bag by pulling it out of the jacket. Upon further testing, it contained 15 grams of crack cocaine, Judge Lovecchio wrote.
Trooper Thompson told the court that he recognized the baggie as "contraband" in plain view and, "was concerned that the three minor children in the room might have access to the substances," Judge Lovecchio wrote.
"The court cannot conclude that the seizure of the baggie was constitutionally permissible...despite the trooper’s testimony, the illegality of the baggie was not immediately apparent," the ruling stated.
Judge Lovecchio cited several reasons why the presence of children did not create an exigent circumstance.
"The jacket could have been secured until a search warrant was obtained. Moreover, the children’s mother could have taken the children elsewhere and prevented them from accessing the jacket," Judge Lovecchio wrote.