WILKES-BARRE — Ramel M. Mosley was a passenger inside a vehicle stopped by city police for an inoperable brake light and making a turn at a “no turn on red” intersection at Butler and North Main streets on Jan. 6, 2017.
After police allegedly spotted a bag of cocaine when the passenger side door was open, Mosley, of Wilkes-Barre, was arrested and charged with a felony drug trafficking offense along with drug possession and paraphernalia offenses.
A Luzerne County jury convicted Mosley on charges with resulted in him being sentenced to seven years, six months to 15 years in state prison.
The driver of the vehicle, Jettie Johnson, 33, of Wilkes-Barre, was sentenced to six months probation on charges of possession of a small amount of marijuana and paraphernalia.
Mosley appealed his conviction claiming police illegally searched the vehicle and there was no evidence that linked the cocaine and marijuana also found inside the vehicle to him.
A three-member panel of the state Superior Court in a 16-page opinion issued Wednesday upheld Mosley’s conviction.
According to court records, Mosley was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Johnson that was stopped by two city police officers when they spotted a broken brake light and later making an illegal turn at the red traffic signal.
Officers when they approached the vehicle detected an odor of marijuana and discovered Johnson’s driver’s license was suspended. The vehicle also had an expired inspection sticker.
Officers gave Johnson two choices: Either have the vehicle towed or have Mosley drive the vehicle at which he agreed.
When Mosley opened the passenger side door, one of the officers, James Conmy, spotted a bag of cocaine in the passenger door storage compartment.
Officers conducted a pat-down search of both men finding wads of cash on them, court records say.
A bag of marijuana was found hidden in Johnson’s underwear, and a canine trained in drug detection alerted officers to the front passenger seat where bags of cocaine and marijuana were found in the door’s storage compartment.
Before the jury trial, Mosley filed a motion to suppress evidence discovered during the traffic stop claiming his rights were violated. Mosley also challenged that police could not definitely link the drugs to him blaming Johnson since he was driving the vehicle.
Judge David W. Lupas, who presided over the jury trial, denied Mosley’s motion to suppress the evidence.
In the 16-page opinion, the Superior Court ruled Lupas properly concluded police had probable cause to stop the vehicle due to the faulty brake light and traffic violation at the intersection.
“(Mosley) exited the SUV to exchange positions with Johnson and left the SUV’s passenger side door open. Officer Conmy saw the cocaine in plain sight in the storage compartment of the passenger side door. Officer Conmy did not have to move any items to see the powder cocaine in plain view. Based on his training and experience, Officer Conmy recognized the contents of the bag as cocaine,” the Superior Court ruled.
The appellate court noted Conmy’s plain view observation of cocaine raised probable cause that a crime was committed resulting in the search of the vehicle and pat-down searches of Mosley and Johnson.
“(Mosley’s) challenge rests upon his assertion that there was no fingerprint or DNA evidence connecting (Mosley) to the cocaine or evidence that he was observed holding or secreting the cocaine,” the Superior Court ruled, adding that the jury in exercising their prerogative as finder of fact, chose to discredit Mosley’s defense.
“The trial court’s sense of justice was not shocked by the verdict, nor is ours. We find no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s denial of (Mosley’s) motion for a new trial based on weight of the evidence,” the appellate court opined in upholding Mosley’s conviction and sentence.