A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

By Burt Rose

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania has decided the case of COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant, v. Matthew B. PETERSON, Appellee, 2011 WL 917727, 2011 PA Super 49, No. 865 WDA 2010 (March 17, 2011). This was a Commonwealth appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Mercer County. The case was before Judges BOWES, DONOHUE, and SHOGAN. Judge Bowes wrote the Opinion.

The Appellee and six other males were standing at a corner after midnight in a high crime area in Sharon, Pennsylvania. Officer Albanese approached slowly in a marked cruiser and six of the individuals fled. Appellee remained behind and did not run. Officer Albanese originally believed that Appellee may have been the victim of a crime and asked Appellee if he had been robbed. Appellee responded in the negative. At this point, the officer questioned Appellee as to why the other individuals ran from the scene and Appellee stated that he did not know. Officer Albanese continued to question Appellee, this time about a bag that Appellee was carrying. Appellee informed him that it contained some tools and showed the contents of the bag to the officer. The officer then asked Appellee for his name. Appellee responded that it was none of the officer’s business. Rather than end the encounter, Officer Albanese exited his vehicle and informed Appellee that he was investigating and ordered Appellee to provide his name. Appellee complied, and the officer learned that Appellee had an outstanding warrant for driving under a suspended license. Officer Albanese then placed Appellee under arrest and performed a search incident to arrest. That search uncovered a small amount of marijuana contained within a plastic baggie, which was the basis for a paraphernalia charge.

The Appellee filed a suppression motion alleging that he was illegally detained without reasonable suspicion and that the evidence that was seized was a direct result of the illegal detention. The suppression court agreed, concluding that the officer had not articulated reasonable suspicion for the investigative detention and that the search incident to arrest flowed directly from information learned during that unlawful interdiction.

The Commonwealth contended that the suppression court erred in finding that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop and question Appellee. According to the Commonwealth, the unprovoked flight of the six other individuals combined with the time of day, 12:30 a.m., and the high crime area provided the officer with reasonable suspicion that Appellee was engaged in criminal activity. The Commonwealth submitted that although the Appellee did not flee, that did not impact the officer’s ability to investigate the suspected criminal activity. However, the Commonwealth failed to provide any argument as to what suspected criminal activity the Appellee was engaged in when he did not take flight from the officer. Nor did the Commonwealth indicate what was suspicious about a person not running from police, or how other individuals fleeing the approach of a police officer makes the person who does not flee likely engaged in criminal activity. Indeed, Officer Albanese admittedly did not suspect Appellee was involved in criminal activity, but believed Appellee was the victim of a crime. While the officer may have had reasonable suspicion to detain the individuals who fled, the fact that a person did not take flight cannot give rise to reasonable suspicion that he is engaged in illegal conduct.

The Commonwealth also claimed that the defendant was not entitled to suppression of his identity and since he was lawfully arrested on an outstanding arrest warrant, the drug paraphernalia and drugs were lawfully obtained pursuant to a search incident to arrest, and that Appellee’s identity was not the proper subject of suppression. Judge Bowes wrote that there was no intervening point between Appellee’s unlawful detention, the supplying of his name, and the subsequent arrest and search.The officer stopped Appellee without reasonable suspicion and, after learning his name, arrested him on an outstanding warrant and searched him incident to that arrest. He then uncovered the evidence at issue. Since the interdiction leading directly to the discovery of Appellee’s name was not supported by reasonable suspicion, the suppression court had properly ruled in favor of the Appellee.

Free legal research available on State and Federal court appointed cases from the Student Research Center. http://www.philadelphiabar.org/page/CJResearch?appNum=4

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