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A Hughesville Borough police officer seized narcotics evidence from a vehicle without legal consent to search it, a recent ruling by Lycoming County President Judge Nancy L. Butts stated.

Hughesville Borough Police Department Officer Ryan Travelpiece violated the constitutional rights of defendant Joshua Kapp, 34, of Muncy Valley, on March 14, 2019, President Judge Butts wrote in a September 24, 2019, order to suppress evidence.

Kapp had suffered medical symptoms similar to a seizure before the illegal search was conducted, court records indicated.

"Defendant was not coherent, based on the affidavit, to give Travelpiece voluntary, knowing, and intelligent consent to search the vehicle," President Judge Butts wrote.

The evidence suppressed was a prescription pill bottle with the defendant's name on it and a Bic straw pen with white methamphetamine residue inside. 

At approximately 7:22 pm on March 14, 2019, Officer Travelpiece noticed emergency personnel assisting the driver of a black station wagon near Route 220 and Reservoir Road in Wolf Township.

The officer was on patrol at the time and recognized Kapp to be someone who did not have a license to operate a vehicle, according to court documents.

When he approached Kapp to ask him why he was driving without a license, he saw blood coming from Kapp's mouth, Officer Travelpiece said in his affidavit.

Kapp "did not know what day it was," his heart rate was elevated to 155, and he was very lethargic with low speech, Officer Travelpiece wrote. 

"Although drug use does not automatically invalidate consent, based on that representation, Defendant was too incoherent to provide voluntary, knowing, and intelligent consent," the President Judge wrote.

Unable to secure a coherent response from the defendant, Officer Travelpiece reportedly asked the vehicle's front seat passenger for permission to search it, court records stated.

At first the passenger refused, but finally she gave Officer Travelpiece the keys and consented, President Judge Butts wrote.

A search of a jacket in the vehicle yielded the prescription bottles, straw pen and methamphetamine residue.

Although the Commonwealth argued that the passenger's consent counted as valid third party consent, the President Judge disagreed.

"No testimony was provided and nothing in the Affidavit explains why [the passenger] would have authority over the vehicle, if she stated she had authority over the vehicle, or what facts would have lead Travelpiece to believe she had such apparent authority to consent to the search of the vehicle," President Judge Butts wrote.

President Judge granted the defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained from the illegal vehicle search.

"Since the Commonwealth failed to meet their burden this Court finds the search of the vehicle was unconstitutional and the evidence seized as a result of the search should be suppressed," President Judge Butts wrote.

The President Judge determined that other evidence collected against Kapp, including a warrant for a blood draw showing intoxication, was valid because it was not tainted by the illegal search of the vehicle but rather based on independent information.

Court Opinion and Order