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Archive for the ‘Drug crimes’ Category

Recent Criminal Defense Cases in Pittsburgh: Drug Crimes, Sex Crimes and Federal Court- Part One

Monday, November 1st, 2010

I’ve been involved in a few recent criminal defense cases here in the Pittsburgh area that focused on interesting angles of our criminal justice system. I’d like to share them with you today.

Pittsburgh Traffic Citation Turns Into Drug Bust and Constitutional Rights Violation

It happens all too often; an individual is pulled over for a traffic infraction, which leads to additional charges. In the case of a recent client, the charges became driving under the influence and possession of drugs.

First, the police officer issued a citation for the traffic offense. And you may be familiar with this kind of situation…

You get pulled over, the police officer speaks with you, and then you sit in the car and wait, while the officer returns to his vehicle to write up the citation. He brings it back to you, and explains your next steps.

All of that happened in this case. Once the citation was issued to my client, the encounter appeared to be over, and the police officer turned and started to walk back to his car. But instead of leaving, the police officer returned and said to my client, “Would you mind stepping out of the car and having a discussion with me?”

Now, when talking to a police officer, most people don’t interpret the “would you mind?” as an option. They interpret it as, “Get out of the car and come back and speak with me.”

So, the client stepped from the vehicle and at that point, the officer made DUI-consistent observations. Based on that, he then asked the client, “If I call for a drug sniffing dog will we find drugs in your car?” At which point my client said, “Yes, I’ve got marijuana in the car.”

Now, I felt the traffic stop itself was appropriate. The client was speeding, and the police officer had a properly calibrated radar gun.

But I challenged what happened afterward. By asking the client to leave his car, knowing most people don’t realize they have a right to refuse the request, the state trooper violated the defendant’s constitutional rights.

The judge ruled that, indeed, it was unconstitutional, because the client didn’t believe that he was free to terminate the encounter and leave the scene. The judge suppressed all of the observations consistent with driving under the influence, as well as the drugs found in the car.

The district attorney’s office dismissed the case.

This sort of traffic encounter happens all too often. It’s a perfect example of why it’s so important that individuals know their rights– or make sure to select an attorney who does.

—Stanton D. Levenson

The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven: Pittsburgh Pirates, Pleas and Punishment

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven: How a Ragtag Group of Fans Took the Fall for Major League Baseball, by Aaron Skirboll, recently hit bookstore shelves and includes a case I defended back in 1985. At the time it was a scandal that rocked all of baseball and continues to symbolize the unfair treat treatment of the little guy in our judicial system.

It was a minor league case played out in a Major League ballpark. My client, Jeffrey Mosco, was bartender at a popular Pittsburgh Pirates hangout. He got to know player Dale Berra, who was the son of Yogi Berra and– as he soon learned– was a cocaine user.

Star-struck with this newfound connection to the Pirates scene, Mosco helped obtain cocaine for Berra. Berra then spread the word to two other Pirates ballplayers that Mosco could get cocaine for them, as well.

Mosco became one of seven defendants accused of drug dealing, and I was Mosco’s defense lawyer. We worked a deal, Mosco entered a guilty plea, and he received a year in jail.

Meanwhile, the three Pittsburgh Pirates– including Berra– were granted immunity and faced no consequences. This was an outrageous example of prosecutorial discretion gone awry. The rich and powerful went free while the poor and unknown went to jail.

I had the pleasure of meeting with the author of The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven as he researched this strange, tumultuous time in Major League Baseball.

You can learn more about this revealing new book—and my role in it—on here.

–Stanton D. Levenson

Lessons Learned from Jurors: Sex and Drug Cases Tried in Pittsburgh Criminal Court

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Our recent blog post talks about how closely jurors watch how everyone behaves in the courtroom, and this reminded me of two interesting examples I thought I’d share with you today.

I had a case involving a schoolteacher, who was accused of sexual assault on seven of his thirteen-year-old female students. While ultimately, he was acquitted, the first time around the jury convicted him.

The jury included six men and six women, and the client did not testify. Even though I believed he wasn’t guilty, I did not think he would be a good witness.

The jury convicted him on half of the charges and acquitted him on half.

I had occasion to speak with the jurors afterward. And what was interesting was, the jurors said they knew he was guilty of the charges they’d convicted him on because, as each of these young girls testified about the alleged sexual assault, he refused to look at them and instead looked down at the table.

It was from that, the jurors felt the defendant was embarrassed, ashamed and guilty.

That was an incredibly important lesson for me, not only in terms of the re-trial of this case but for all other cases since. Not evidence, but appearance, body language and the erroneous impressions jurors draw from them can make or break a case.

Another important thing I learned from years of being in front of a jury is that jurors watch how you treat your client.

Early in my career, I represented a young man who was charged with the distribution of drugs.

We had no defense to the charges, but couldn’t get a deal that made sense. So we picked a jury and went to trial.

And while I don’t recall my argument to the jury– lo and behold, the defendant was acquitted, leading me to believe I must really be a terrific lawyer.

Fortunately, about a week later I ran into one of the jurors walking down the street. He stopped me, we talked about the case, and I asked him what the basis for the acquittal was.

And he looked me in the eye and said, “Stan, we knew your client was innocent.”

I said, “Of course he was. But how did you know that?”

He said, “Well, the way you treated him. You were so nice to him and you put your arm around him. We knew that you wouldn’t have acted that way if he was a guilty person.”

Again, a fascinating lesson about human nature.

—Stanton D. Levenson

Drug Crimes Defense Case Recap: Tommy Chong, Bong Manufacturers and “Operation Sweet Dreams”

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Sometimes the feds take on prosecutions which, but for their seriousness, make you scratch your head in wonder. One such prosecution was in 2003– the infamous “Operation Sweet Dreams,” which targeted bong makers and sellers.

Among those charged was counter-culture icon Tommy Chong. I represented Tommy, the only first-time offender of the group to receive jail time: nine months.

Attorney General at the time, John Ashcroft, and former Pittsburgh U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan took the ludicrous position that closing down bong makers and sellers would somehow reduce drug usage.  Approximately 50 individuals from all over the country were prosecuted here in Pittsburgh. This is not a distinction we should be proud of.

Tommy’s son Paris, a glass blower, was creating and selling bongs over the internet, and Tommy and his wife had financed their son’s venture. The only way to assure that Tommy’s wife and son would not be prosecuted was for Tommy and Paris’ corporation to agree to plead guilty.

The feds received much well-deserved criticism for spending in excess of $12 million of our money to make the world safe from these 50 bongsters. However, the feds felt that by bagging America’s poster boy for marijuana, the public would somehow see what a significant prosecution this was.

Independent film maker Josh Gilbert made a wonderful, hilarious, and highly-acclaimed documentary of this wasteful and meaningless federal exercise. It is titled A.K.A. Tommy Chong and plays occasionally on Showtime.

I had the pleasure of making my film debut in this movie. Unfortunately, additional offers have not rolled in.

As an interesting sidenote, when the feds raided Tommy’s home in Los Angeles, they seized five pounds of marijuana which was Tommy’s personal stash.  No law enforcement agency in L.A. was interested in prosecuting Tommy for possession of the five pounds, because the quantity was considered too insignificant!

Is there a lesson to be learned here?

–Stanton D. Levenson