The State of Pennsylvania holds a special place in AutoSlash blog lore. Not only does drug trafficking while driving slowly in the passing lane become a literal federal (drug) case, one of these trafficking incidents has resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court case about the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The lesson in Pennsylvania is simple -- when driving an out-of-state registered vehicle, only get in the passing lane when making a pass. "Keep Right Except to Pass" is truly taken seriously by the Pennsylvania State Police, to whom we give props. And when driving a rental car on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, speeding is also a reason to get pulled over as Jason Pennell, formerly of Ashland, Oregon, can attest.
He's got a fast car but his only ticket was to a place he couldn't leave.
According to local sources, Mr. Pennell is currently being held on $1 million bail after being arrested in his rental Nissan Altima. He was pulled over for speeding but luck was not on his side; the trooper making the traffic stop was a member of Operation SHIELD (Safe Highways Initiative for Effective Law Enforcement and Detection). Pulled over for speeding with some drugs hidden in the car, the driver said "no" to a search request after arousing the trooper's suspicions. The trooper called for a K-9 unit's assistance and as one knows from previous AutoSlash blog posts, the traffic stop can't be extended while waiting for a K-9. If an officer completes the citation(s) before the K-9 arrives, the suspect has to be permitted to leave.
Mr. Pennell's string of bad luck continued, as the K-9 unit arrived and the dog indicated there were drugs in the car. Not a "little bit of drugs" but 116 bags of marijuana -- not part of the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program -- conveniently pre-packaged in vacuum-sealed 1-pound bags for easy distribution. Plus a few vials of hash oil. At that point, Pennell did not pass go and did not collect $200. And he didn't go directly to jail -- he went directly to the Berks County Prison, which unsurprisingly has a one-star rating on Yelp! by former "visitors".
Warning: Browsing Yelp reviews of jails and prisons could be such an (entertaining) internet rabbit hole.
As Pennsylvania comes up frequently in our series of criminals using rental cars, we downloaded the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's PAeDocket app (available for Android and iOS). Mr. Pennell's already hired a lawyer but with bail at $1 million, he's likely to stay detained until trial. He's facing a felony charge of Manufacture, Delivery, or Possession with Intent to Manufacture or Deliver and two misdemeanors of Use/Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and Intentional Possession of a Controlled Substance by a Non-Registered Person. We suspect the best course of action for someone caught with 116 pounds of marijuana conveniently packaged in one-pound bags for easy distribution would be to accept a plea deal -- any plea deal!
And Mr. Pennell provides another important lesson for potential criminal syndicates; when "don't commit a major drug crime" simply isn't an option, at least use cruise control when driving unless weather makes said use hazardous.