Commonwealth v. West
Decided: Nov 28, 2007
Police properly seized a vehicle when they had reason to believe it would be used in the sale of drugs.
At around 1 a.m., an officer in York saw a black male riding a red and black motorcycle. The man turned down a drive leading to the Holiday Inn. About an hour later the officer remembered that there was a homicide warrant out for a black male who had been operating a similar motorcycle. The officer drove into the Holiday Inn and located the motorcycle he had seen earlier. He ran the plates and discovered that there was an arrest warrant out for the rider, West, for the sale of cocaine.
The officer called for backup and then went to the front desk of the Holiday Inn. The officers inquired with the front desk attendant and learned that a certain female had registered the white vehicle parked next to the motorcycle with the inn and that West was not a registered guest. The officers had the attendant call the room and ask the lady to come to the front desk to speak with them. West came out of the elevator shortly after the lady came down.
The officers arrested him because of the outstanding warrant. They searched West and the backpack he was carrying and located marijuana, cell phones, $1,000, and cigars containing marijuana. The officers seized the motorcycle and had it transported to the police department. They located what was suspected to be cocaine under the seat and then obtained a warrant. After receiving the warrant, the officers seized a digital scale, baggies with missing corners, and rock and powder cocaine.
As a result, West was convicted of possession of cocaine and PWID cocaine. West immediately appealed. He argued that the Commonwealth did not prove he actually or constructively possessed cocaine and without the possession his cocaine convictions could not stand.
Since the cocaine was not found on West's person, the Commonwealth must prove constructive possession-that is the person had the ability and intent to exercise control or dominion over the substance. The court determined that since the cocaine was in his motorcycle, it appeared he was on his way to the motorcycle when he was arrested, and he had been riding the motorcycle no less than an hour before, that West had the ability to control the cocaine. Thus, West's first claim was without merit.
West next argued that the search and seizure of the motorcycle was illegal. Police may, even without a warrant seize a vehicle when they have probable cause to believe the vehicle has been used to transport or to facilitate the possession, concealment or sale of controlled substances. The court concluded that the evidence seized from the motorcycle was admissible because the officers had probable cause.
The Commonwealth did not present evidence of a standard inventory search policy within the police department, so the search of the motorcycle could not be considered a valid inventory search. But the court determined that the warrant to search, which was based on an affidavit that contained some details obtained as a result of the illegal inventory search, was still valid because the affidavit included sufficient untainted averments without the tainted to establish probable cause. The Court affirmed the convictions.