HOLLIDAYSBURG - A Duncansville police officer who stopped a car last December because of a traffic violation did not violate the constitutional rights of the occupants when he then searched the vehicle and found a small sandwich bag of marijuana, according to an opinion Wednesday by Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan.
Sullivan was presented with a case in which Benjamin D. Holsinger, 21, and Stephanie M. Waters, 20, both of Roaring Spring, were occupants in a car that was stopped on Route 22, Duncansville, by Patrolman Gregory Garlock.
The officer testified recently that the car was stopped because it was traveling through the borough at 6:10 p.m. without lights.
There were four people in the vehicle, with Holsinger driving.
Garlock gave the driver a warning and said, "Have a good evening." He then told Holsinger to "drive safely."
He began to walk back to his cruiser but turned around and went back to the driver and asked if it would be okay if he asked a question.
The question was whether there was anything in the vehicle he needed to know about?
The officer was then given permission to search the vehicle.
The search turned up the sandwich bag of marijuana in the glove compartment.
Holsinger and Waters admitted it belonged to them.
The two told the judge they didn't know they could refuse a request by a police officer to search the vehicle.
The officer never told them they had the right to refuse the search.
Blair County Assistant Public Defender Julia Burke challenged, contending the police officer did not have "reasonable suspicion" to support a search.
District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio, however, argued that the search was consensual.
The judge explained that there are three levels of interaction between the police and the public, including a "mere encounter," which requires no reasonable suspicion, "investigative detention," in which the officer must have reasonable suspicion to conduct the search, and "custodial detention," to be supported by "probable cause."
The judge ruled in favor of the prosecution, pointing out that the officer prior to the search did not order the occupants from the vehicle, was not coercive and did not "brandish" his weapon.
"The fact that Officer Garlock did not tell the defendants they had a right to decline to allow him to search the vehicle alone is not dispositive in the case..." stated Sullivan.
He said the search in view of all the circumstances was "voluntary" and "constitutionally valid."
Burke's request to disallow the use of the evidence at trial was dismissed, Sullivan said.
The next court appearance for Holsinger and Walters will be Monday when a judge will decide if the case is ready for trial.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.