Two Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices took issue with their colleagues’ decision to allow authorities to hold a jeweler’s entire inventory during the course of a burglary investigation.
Justice David N. Wecht, joined by Justice Christine Donohue in his dissent to a high court order allowing Montgomery County authorities to hold 50,000 pieces of jewelry belonging to Jasmeen Kaur and DUA Diamonds, said the court’s decision means law enforcement can seize property with impunity.
Wasim Shazad, the proprietor of the stores the jewelry came from, has been charged with being a fence for a Main Line burglary ring. Kaur, who is involved with some of the stores in question, applied to have the 49,000 pieces that authorities determined weren’t involved with criminal activity to be returned.
“Wasim Shazad may very well be proven guilty of any number of criminal offenses,” Wecht said in his dissent. “Let us assume for the moment that he is convicted. It has nonetheless remained undisputed by the parties throughout these proceedings that some substantial percentage of applicant’s inventory is part of applicant’s completely legitimate business operations.”
The Montgomery County trial court denied prosecutors’ request to hang on to the jewelry, but the state appealed and won at the Superior Court, which did not explain its reasoning for siding with the prosecution. The Supreme Court then upheld that ruling in a one-page order.
“In my view, the Superior Court’s order reinstating the supersedeas and preventing applicant’s recovery of its lawfully-owned property reflects an ‘egregious error’ that warrants the exercise of this court’s supervisory powers,” Wecht said.
He added that Kaur already prevailed on the merits at the trial court level regarding the thousands of pieces that were obtained legitimately, which that court ruled she was “entitled to lawful possession thereof.”
“Applicant notes that the commonwealth had months to acquire evidence sufficient to satisfy its burden, and that the trial court granted the commonwealth numerous extensions of time to produce such evidence,” Wecht continued. “Despite the time afforded to the commonwealth, and despite the commonwealth’s invitation to the public to claim applicant’s inventory as stolen property, ‘the commonwealth did not provide any direct or circumstantial evidence that the property which [applicant] wanted returned was, in fact, derivative contraband.’”
A Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office spokesperson declined to comment.
Counsel for Kaur, Karl Myers of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young in Philadelphia, said Steven Fairlie of Fairlie & Lippy in Philadelphia, trial counsel for Kaur and DUA, “has negotiated an agreement with prosecutors for the return of our clients’ merchandise—notwithstanding the Superior Court’s stay order.”
“Based on that agreement, our clients now have their property back and will be able to reopen their jewelry stores so they can make a living to support themselves and their three young children,” Myers said.