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Virginia Court Denies Defendant’s Appeal Based on Privacy Rights in Drug Case

In a recent drug case in Virginia, the court denied the defendant’s appeal for possession of heroin. Originally, the defendant had been found guilty after overdosing on drugs in his hotel room. On appeal, the defendant argued that the officer who found the drugs violated his right to privacy by unlawfully searching through his nightstand. Additionally, he argued that because of recent changes to Virginia law, he should not be convicted if officers only found the drugs while they were providing emergency medical care. The court disagreed, ultimately denying the defendant’s appeal.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, an officer was dispatched to a motel room in Virginia in response to an anonymous caller claiming they saw an unresponsive male in the room. When the officer arrived, she announced her presence and entered the room, finding the defendant on the floor. He was unconscious, pale, sweating, and breathing heavily. The officer believed the defendant to be suffering from a drug overdose, so she called emergency medics, who quickly arrived and began treating the defendant. In the meantime, the officer began searching the hotel room for evidence of drug use.

The officer and her team looked around the hotel room but did not immediately see any drugs. She then searched through the defendant’s nightstand and found a clear bag with a white powdery substance that was later determined to be heroin. A few minutes later, the medics were able to revive the defendant; when they asked him what substance he took, he admitted to having snorted heroin moments before he became unconscious. The defendant was later convicted of heroin possession.

The Decision

On appeal, the defendant argued that the officer’s search of his motel room invaded his privacy. The defendant used the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from unreasonable searches, to try and convince the court that the officer unlawfully searched through the nightstand in his motel room. The court disagreed, saying that because the officer walked into a situation where the defendant’s life was on the line, it was reasonable for her to take steps to find what had caused the defendant’s overdose. Even though the officer did not have a warrant, she was searching the defendant’s room in a state of emergency, and it was, therefore, reasonable for her to look in the defendant’s nightstand.

The defendant also argued that he should not be convicted because of a recent change in Virginia law. According to the new law, defendants convicted of drug possession can fight their convictions if officers only learned about their possession because of a need for immediate medical help. Because the officer and medical team came to his room because he was in a medical emergency, said the defendant, the court should apply this new law and the defendant should not be found guilty. The court disagreed; while the new law did accomplish what the defendant argued it accomplished, the court could not apply the law retroactively. The law did not come into effect until over one year after the defendant’s overdose, therefore it offered the defendant no protection at the time of his appeal. With this in mind, the court denied the defendant’s appeal.

Have You Been Charged with Drug Possession in Virginia?

If you have been charged with drug possession in Virginia, it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can walk you through your options. At Robinson Law, PLLC, we are experienced in handling drug charges and will help you understand every possible defense you could raise. For a free and confidential consultation, call us at 703-542-4008.

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