Sunday, September 9, 2012

Penn State Marijuana Possession 101 - Where Not to Smoke on Campus

Dorm Room
            I have been a criminal defense lawyer in State College since 2004, and I have handled hundreds of marijuana possession cases that are filed by the police against Penn State students.  Incoming freshman tend to be cited after getting caught in three areas.  First, many freshman smoke
marijuana in their dorm rooms, and they believe that keeping the window open and smoking next to a fan that blows the smoke out the window will be sufficient to keep the odor from remaining in their room.  Others exhale the marijuana smoke through papertowel rolls stuffed with dryer sheets in an attempt to mask the smell, and many try to wedge a towel at the base of the door to prevent the marijuana odor from emanating into the hallway.  Obviously, if the person is calling me, the steps taken to avoid detection were not successful. 

Law Building & Arboretum
            In the recent past, many freshmen would be charged with marijuana possession case after they were cited in the Rose Gardens on campus.  In one of my prior cases, the Penn State Police approached a client and three others as they stood under a tree in the Rose Garden, and the police officer ordered them to step into the open.  My client ran, which caused the police to give chase and call for backup office, and my client was ultimately tackled, arrested, searched, and charged with marijuana possession.  The officers had not smelled marijuana as they approached, but they suspected that marijuana was being smoked based upon the location.  I filed a motion and argued that the police did not have probable cause to arrest my client, so all evidence should be suppressed.  I believe that the district attorney knew that I should probably win, so the district attorney issued a plea offer that required my client to plead guilty to two summary charges in exchange for the dismissal of the misdemeanor drug possession and paraphernalia charges. 

I believe that the Rose Gardens were replaced with the construction of the Dickinson Law School Building and the Arboretum.  While the Rose Gardens may have disappeared, the area still draws many marijuana smokers, and the smokers are routinely cited at the law building and the Arboretum.  Since the police are familiar with the apparent draw of marijuana smokers to this area, the Penn State Police routinely patrol these areas for marijuana related activity.

Parking Decks
            The Penn State Police also patrol the parking decks near East Halls looking for marijuana smokers that incorrectly assumed that the parking deck would be a good out-of-the-way spot.  Not only do the police patrol the parking decks, they also use the elevantion from the upper decks to serve as surveillance stations.  From the upper levels of the parking decks, the police have an 
unobstructed view of entrances to some of the dorms.  The police know that people smoking cigarettes will smoke right outside the dorm entrance, whereas people smoking marijuana cigarettes will walk around the side of the dorm and smoke near some trees or other out-of-the-way location.  If an officer sees someone walk away from the entrance and light something, the officer conducting surveillance will then either leave the garage to investigate or radio another Penn State Police officer to investigate.  In many cases, the officers approach, smell the odor of marijuana, and then detain the person to conduct a marijuana possession investigation.  Courts have held that the odor of marijuana can be sufficient to establish probable cause.

What Should I Do If I Am Charged With Marijuana Possession
            While marijuana possession is legal in some states, it is NOT legal in Pennsylvania.  In Pennsylvania, a charge of possessing less than 30 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense that is punishable by up to 30 days in jail, $500.00 fine, and at least a 6 month suspension of Pennsylvania driving privileges. 

If you are charged with marijuana possession, you should contact a criminal defense attorney that has experience in handling drug cases in the county in which the charge was filed.  While the laws in Pennsylvania are the same in every county, the way that cases are handled differs from county to county as you have different court systems and different district attorneys making decisions.  For example, in areas such as Pittsburgh of Philadelphia, misdemeanor marijuana possession charges may be resolved by a guilty plea to a summary charge of disorderly conduct.  However, in more rural areas that have less crime, such as State College and Lock Haven, the prosecutors rarely resolve misdemeanor drug charges via a plea to a summary offense.  Most State College criminal defense attorneys offer free consultations, so you can have multiple attorneys review your case and give you feedback at no cost.  You should investigate the attorney on the web and review websites such as Avvo for the lawyer’s overall ratings as well as positive reviews written by former clients.  The attorney should be able to explain your options to you and should also be able to discuss cases in which the attorneys has employed strategies to obtain favorable results for clients.  The police and court system treat the marijuana possession charges very seriously, and so should you.

Jason S. Dunkle has been a State College criminal defense lawyer since 2004.  His law office, JD Law, P.C., is located in downtown State College, within walking distance of the University Park Campus of Penn State University.  If you or someone you know has been charged with a DUI or other criminal offense, contact JD Law at (814) 954-1094 and schedule a FREE CONSULTATION.


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