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decided: December 2, 1977.


No. 807 October Term, 1976, Appeal from Judgment of Sentence imposed January 6, 1976 in the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal, County of Lycoming, Pennsylvania, at No. 74-11, 026.


Alan Ellis, State College, for appellant.

Robert F. Banks, Assistant District Attorney, Greenville, with him Allen E. Ertel, District Attorney, Williamsport, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Watkins, President Judge, and Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort and Spaeth, JJ. Jacobs, J., concurs in the result. Spaeth, J., files a dissenting opinion in which Hoffman, J., joins.

Author: Cercone

[ 251 Pa. Super. Page 444]

In March of 1975 appellant was tried non-jury on charges of possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, carrying a concealed weapon without a license, and disorderly conduct. At the conclusion of the Commonwealth's case a demurrer was sustained to the disorderly conduct charge. Appellant was subsequently acquitted of the delivery charge and found guilty of possession of marijuana and carrying a concealed weapon. Following post-verdict motions, however, judgment was arrested on the weapon's violation. From the imposition of a sentence of one year's probation, this appeal ensued.

In the early evening of September 16, 1974, Officer Phillip Williams of the Williamsport Police Force was driving his cruiser in the southbound lane of Packer Street approaching the intersection of Packer and Market Streets. As he neared the intersection Officer Williams observed the appellant, who was operating a Volkswagen van, attempting to turn his vehicle from Market Street into the northbound lane of Packer Street. In making the turn appellant almost struck an automobile in the southbound lane of Packer Street directly in front of Officer Williams' cruiser. Appellant managed to bring his vehicle back into the proper lane momentarily, but then again drifted across the center line, this time almost hitting Officer Williams' cruiser. As he passed by the cruiser, appellant looked out his open window and made an obscene gesture to Officer Williams. The officer then turned his vehicle around and pursued appellant with the intention of arresting him for reckless driving.

[ 251 Pa. Super. Page 445]

The pursuit ended only moments later when appellant attempted to park his vehicle. In maneuvering the van into a parking space appellant struck the cars parked immediately in front of and to the rear of his vehicle. When Officer Williams approached the van on foot, appellant rolled up his window and locked himself inside. The officer's request for appellant's license and owner's registration was met with an obscene refusal. In the course of this exchange Officer Williams observed several boxes of shotgun shells in the van and decided to call for assistance. When several other officers arrived, appellant greeted them with more profanity and persisted in refusing to exit his vehicle. Shortly thereafter appellant started the van's engine and attempted to pull out of the parking space. While appellant was trying to pull away, Officer Jett was attempting to pry open one of the van's doors with a tire iron. As Officer Jett was working on the door, appellant looked at him and then reached towards a brown leather bag that was lying on the rear seat. At this point, Officer Jett, being fully aware of the shell boxes, used the tire iron to break the door window on the driver's side of the van. The officers then unlocked the door and pulled appellant out of the van. While appellant was being frisked outside the van,*fn1 Officer Jett seized and opened the zippered leather valise. The search revealed two packages of marijuana*fn2 and a loaded revolver.

Appellant's sole contention is that the contents of the leather valise should have been suppressed as the product of an illegal search and seizure. We disagree.

In determining whether a particular search will withstand constitutional scrutiny it must be realized that "[t]he ultimate standard set forth in the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness." Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 439,

[ 251 Pa. Super. Page 44693]

S.Ct. 2523, 2527, 37 L.Ed.2d 706 (1973). It is also true and fundamental that "searches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by a judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment -- subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions." Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 514, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967). Instantly, the Commonwealth has advanced two alternative theories in support of the warrantless seizure and search of the valise. Since we conclude that the evidence was admissible under the "plain view" ...

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