John J. Dean, Lester G. Nauhaus, John R. Smith, Public Defender, Pittsburgh, for appellant.
John J. Hickton, Dist. Atty., Robert L. Eberhardt, Louis R. Paulick, Asst. Dist. Attys., Pittsburgh, for appellee.
Watkins, President Judge, and Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort and Spaeth, JJ. Cercone, J., concurs in the result. Van der Voort, J., dissents.
[ 243 Pa. Super. Page 286]
After a non-jury trial, appellants were convicted of theft by deception and criminal conspiracy, and were sentenced to terms of imprisonment. In these consolidated appeals, appellants contend that they were arrested without probable cause and therefore their motions to suppress should have been granted. The Commonwealth "concedes that probable cause was lacking at that time but instead maintains that the placing of appellants in the police van constituted a brief stop of a suspicious individual in order to maintain the status quo while obtaining more information." (Brief of Appellee at 4)
The testimony adduced at the suppression hearing showed that at approximately 3:30 A.M. on October 8,
[ 243 Pa. Super. Page 2871974]
, Officers Fetherolf and Chergi, plainclothes officers of the Pittsburgh police, were on patrol in the 900 block of Liberty Avenue when they saw appellants and one Abraham Robinson "conversing in a small huddle." (N.T. 7) Officer Fetherolf saw that appellant Brown was holding a brown paper bag. (Id.) Although the officer did not see the contents of the bag (N.T. 13, 14), he surmised that appellants were engaging in a scheme known as the "carnival-ring game."*fn1 The officer explained that the "carnival-ring game" was commonplace in downtown Pittsburgh (N.T. 7), and that he regarded Robinson, who was significantly older than appellants, as a likely victim. (N.T. 14)
The officers next observed appellants and Robinson walk down Liberty Avenue and enter the Hi Boy restaurant. (N.T. 8) Approximately five minutes later, the officers saw appellants run out of the restaurant. Thinking that the restaurant had been robbed, they chased appellants to a nearby parking lot (N.T. 8), where Officer Fetherolf searched appellants for weapons.*fn2
In response to the officers' radio call, a police "paddy wagon" manned by Officers Belansky and Lowery came to the scene. Appellants were placed in the wagon, which left for the police station. (N.T. 24) Officer Fetherolf went to the restaurant, where he learned that Robinson had been the victim of a confidence scheme that resulted in the theft of his wallet.*fn3 Officer Fetherolf
[ 243 Pa. Super. Page 288]
made a radio call to Officers Belansky and Lowery, who by then had arrived at the police station and had placed appellants in a cell room. At Officer Fetherolf's request, Officers Lowery and Belansky searched the wagon, discovering Robinson's stolen wallet, a brown paper bag, and cut-up newspaper (N.T. 12, 25, 26).
The Commonwealth correctly concedes that the officers did not have probable cause to arrest appellants at the time they placed appellants in the police wagon. The officers could not see the contents of the paper bag as they observed appellants and the victim from a distance of seventy to ninety feet (N.T. 13, 14), and therefore could only speculate as to what appellants were doing; and although they saw appellants run out of the restaurant, ...