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Police Cannot Prolong Investigations for Purpose of Increasing Potential Penalties

Posted On: November 12, 2009 by Marc Neff

The Pennsylvania Superior Court decided the case of Commonwealth v. Smith lat month, remanding the case back to the trial court in order to determine proper sentencing. Smith was arrested and charged with four counts of possession of cocaine, four counts of intent to deliver cocaine, and three counts of delivery of cocaine. The arrest occurred following a prolonged police investigation, during which the defendant, Smith was observed committing four separate narcotics transactions. Smith was sentenced in the Court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County, to seven to fourteen years imprisonment, in accordance with Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing statute.

Smith appealed his sentence to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, arguing the police purposely manipulated their investigation in order to increase the mandatory minimum associated with his sentence. In fact, a first offense carries a mandatory minimum of three years, five years for a second conviction, and ultimately seven years for subsequent convictions. Smith’s position was that the police could have arrested and charged him following the first or even second observed offense, rather than allowing him to continue his illegal activity. Judge Klein wrote the opinion of the Superior Court, remanding Smith’s case to the trial level for further examination. In the opinion, Judge Klein explained that police are well within their powers to delay making an arrest, if the purpose of prolonging their investigation is for example, to determine a supplier or a more important member of a criminal conspiracy. However, if the purpose of the prolonged investigation is merely to increase the potential sentence associated with a conviction, the Court must impose the mandatory minimum sentence associated with the initial count.

The Superior Court remanded the case for determination of whether the prolonged investigation had purpose or was rather an abuse of police discretion. It is important to note that even in the scenario outlined in Smith, a prior conviction will automatically bump the mandatory minimum sentence to the higher level. If charged with a narcotics offense, it is imperative you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. Attorney Marc Neff has over twenty years of experience successfully defending clients charged with narcotics, and all other criminal violations. If you have been charged with a crime or believe you are under investigation and could potentially be charged, there are defenses available to you. All consultations are confidential. Contact the Law Offices of Marc Neff as soon as possible, at (215)563-9800 or via e-mail at

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Posted in: Drug Crimes