The state Superior Court has upheld a ruling by a Luzerne County judge that prohibited prosecutors from using as evidence cocaine allegedly found in the pocket of Daniel Irizarry of Hazleton.
Irizarry, 39, of West Maple Street, was one of two men sitting in a parked vehicle on West Fern Street, Hazleton, on Oct. 13, 2010, when state police Cpl. John Leonard noticed the car had an expired registration sticker.
Leonard noted in the criminal complaint he was conducting parking enforcement in a high-crime area of Hazleton and encountered Irizarry and another man in the car.
Irizarry identified himself with an expired Pennsylvania driver’s license and a valid Florida driver’s license. He also produced the car’s registration that was in a woman’s name.
Because Leonard was alone in a high-crime area with two men in a car they did not own, Irizarry was “patted-down,” which led to the alleged discovery of three bags of cocaine in his pocket, the complaint says.
Irizarry was charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.
His attorney, public defender Charles Ross, sought to have the cocaine thrown out, claiming it was discovered by an unlawful search. Ross argued Leonard had no probable cause to conduct the pat-down search of Irizarry.
Pierantoni agreed in a ruling issued April 11, 2013, stating an officer must possess a justified belief that an individual is armed and dangerous to conduct a pat-down search, also known as a Terry frisk.
Prosecutors appealed Pierantoni’s ruling to the Superior Court.
In its opinion issued Friday, the appellate court upheld Pierantoni’s ruling finding that prosecutors failed to prove that Leonard had reasonable suspicion that Irizarry was armed and dangerous.
Prosecutors did not establish that Irizarry’s behavior during the encounter with Leonard warranted a pat-down search.
Ross could not be reached for comment on Monday.
District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis could not be reached Monday to determine if her office will request the Superior Court to reconsider.