POLICE DO NOT NEED TO SAVE “BUY MONEY” AS EVIDENCE TO PROVE A DRUG TRANSACTION

The PA Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Ribot, No. 1190 EDA 2015 (August 15, 2017), holding that the trial court abused its discretion in precluding evidence of the pre-recorded buy money.

Ribot was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver (“PWID”) and possession of a controlled substance after a controlled buy was set up with a confidential informant.

Before trial, Ribot filed a motion requesting the production of pre-recorded buy money used in the alleged transaction and the trial court ordered the Commonwealth to make the $20 bill available to Ribot for inspection. The Commonwealth did not produce the $20 bill because the bill had been placed back into circulation for use in future controlled buys. It did, however, produce a printout of the time-stamped computer entry showing that the bill’s serial number had been recorded the day before the controlled buy.

Ribot orally moved to preclude the Commonwealth from introducing into evidence any reference to the pre-recorded buy money and, after a hearing, the trial court granted Ribot’s motion in limine and “precluded the Commonwealth from mentioning that buy money was exchanged or recovered from Ribot.”

The original $20 bill could not be produced because it had been placed back into circulation. And, the Superior Court concluded, the Commonwealth did not violate mandatory disclosure rules by failing to produce evidence that it reasonably did not possess.

Both the trial Court and Ribot relied upon the Best Evidence Rule to support the position that the evidence should be precluded.

However, the Superior Court concluded that “Officer Donahue’s proposed testimony about the pre-recorded $20 bill and its serial number would simply be additional evidence in support of that identification testimony. However. because the Commonwealth was not required to prove the bill’s serial number in order to prove the elements of PWID or possession of a controlled substance, the Superior Court concluded that the best-evidence rule was inapplicable.” Specifically, the Superior Court concluded that the officer’s method of recording the buy money went to the weight of the evidence, not its admissibility.

CASE LINK: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Superior/out/Opinion%20-%20Reversed%20-%2010320943422827035.pdf?cb=1

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