Judge denies suppression of drugs, gun

August 7, 2014

A Washington County judge ruled Thursday that a gun, a plastic bag containing marijuana and 45 small bags of heroin were seized legally, denying an Ellsworth man a second successful suppression hearing.

Brian A. Still Jr., 28, and his attorney, John Puskar, argued before Washington County Judge John DiSalle that the evidence seized by Washington police Sgt. Carl Martin was done so illegally without a search warrant and therefore should be suppressed.

Still was arrested in October after Martin observed a passenger in Still’s vehicle preparing a blunt, which is a hollowed out cigar filled with marijuana. Upon closer inspection and smelling burned marijuana, Martin testified Thursday that he discovered a blunt in the vehicle’s ashtray and later a plastic bag full of marijuana in the rear of the vehicle.

During a more thorough search, a nylon holster and a firearm were discovered under the front seat. The heroin bags were discovered on Still after he was arrested.

DiSalle denied the suppression, stating Martin had “reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was ongoing.”

“The officer had reasonable suspicion to approach,” he said. “He was authorized to reach into the vehicle and upon further search, noticed the holster under the seat. It was reasonable for the officer to seize that.”

Assistant District Attorney Jerry Moschetta said new case law also was a factor in the judge’s decision. A 2014 state Supreme Court ruling determined that Pennsylvania law and federal law are the same when it comes to searches of vehicles.

“Police officers just need probable cause,” Moschetta said. “They don’t need search warrants.”

Puskar said he was “very disappointed” in the judge’s decision. He was hoping for an outcome similar to one Still had in July when DiSalle ruled a state police search warrant in another case lacked the legal underpinnings to stand up in court. As a result, the drug evidence seized in that case cannot be introduced at trial. Still was arrested Sept. 4, 2012, when police seized what they termed “a significant amount of raw heroin,” along with a small amount of marijuana, drug paraphernalia, including small glassine “stamp bags” and a scale, a loaded, .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol and $2,233 from his home. The district attorney’s office has 30 days to appeal the suppression ruling in that case.

Puskar said he has not ruled out filing an appeal of Thursday’s ruling. Still faces felony charges of possession of marijuana, receiving stolen property, possession of a firearm when prohibited, firearms not to be carried without a license and intent to manufacture or deliver heroin. He also faces a misdemeanor charge after he was found with a small amount of marijuana in September.

A possible jury selection date has been set for Sept. 8.

Still remains free on bond.

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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