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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. CHARLES BYNUM (04/12/79)

decided: April 12, 1979.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
CHARLES BYNUM, APPELLANT



No. 384 October Term, 1977, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Trial Division of Philadelphia County, Nos. 1531-34, September Session, 1975.

COUNSEL

John W. Packel, Assistant Public Defender, Chief, Appeals Division, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Michael R. Stiles, Assistant District Attorney, Chief, Appeals Division, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Watkins, President Judge, and Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort and Spaeth, JJ. Jacobs, former President Judge, Watkins, former President Judge, and Hoffman, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Cercone

[ 265 Pa. Super. Page 14]

Appellant takes this appeal from his conviction for robbery, conspiracy, and violation of the Uniform Firearms Act.

[ 265 Pa. Super. Page 15]

Appellant raises several issues in his brief. We find appellant's arguments concerning his conspiracy conviction to be meritorious and therefore reverse that conviction. However, appellant's other arguments are not sound and we affirm appellant's convictions for robbery and violation of the Uniform Firearms Act.

On the evening of July 27, 1975, the Arco gas station at the corner of 26th Street and Girard Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was robbed. The attendant on duty at the station that night was Claude Taylor. Approximately two weeks later, on August 13, 1975, Taylor was again working at the station when, at approximately 8:00 P.M., he thought he saw the two men who committed the robbery walk past the station. Taylor was on the telephone at that time talking to his girlfriend and he told her to call the police because he was afraid that he was going to be robbed again. As he was speaking to her, Taylor saw the two men cross the street, stop, turn to look at the station, then continue walking east on Grand Avenue. Officer Edward McIlvaine responded to Taylor's call and went to the Arco station, where the officer was met by Taylor. Taylor told the officer about the previous robbery and about spotting the two suspected robbers. Taylor said he saw the men walk east on Girard Street and told Officer McIlvaine that the one man was wearing a white hat and a black coat while the other wore a black coat, dungarees and white sneakers. Relying on this information, Officer McIlvaine proceeded east on Girard Avenue and he soon spotted appellant and his co-defendant, Pearlie Perdie.*fn1 The officer stopped the pair and frisked them, seizing a handgun from Perdie. The two were then handcuffed, put in the police van, and taken back to the Arco station for identification. Taylor first identified the men at the gas station and again, later, at the police station.

[ 265 Pa. Super. Page 16]

In his brief, appellant claims that his arrest lacked probable cause, arguing that the general description of appellant's clothing, supplied by Taylor, was not enough. We do not agree. To be constitutionally valid, a warrantless arrest must be based on probable cause. Commonwealth v. Dickerson, 468 Pa. 599, 364 A.2d 677 (1976); Commonwealth v. Brooks, 468 Pa. 547, 364 A.2d 652 (1976); Commonwealth v. Roscioli, 240 Pa. Super. 135, 361 A.2d 834 (1976); Commonwealth v. Hunter, 240 Pa. Super. 23, 360 A.2d 702 (1976). Probable cause for a warrantless arrest exists when there are facts available at the time of the arrest which would justify a reasonable man in believing that the suspect either is committing or has committed a crime. Commonwealth v. Perkins, 473 Pa. 116, 373 A.2d 1076 (1977); Commonwealth v. Levesque, 469 Pa. 118, 364 A.2d 932 (1976); Commonwealth v. Trefvy, 249 Pa. Super. 117, 375 A.2d 786 (1977); Commonwealth v. Wilson, 245 Pa. Super. 415, 369 A.2d 471 (1976). The probable cause test is not the equivalent of proof beyond a reasonable doubt but one of probabilities, not certainties. Commonwealth v. Dickerson, 468 Pa. 599, 364 A.2d 677 (1976). General descriptions of a suspect which are equally applicable to large numbers of people will not usually support a finding of probable cause, particularly where the arrest does not immediately follow the crime. Commonwealth v. Jackson, 459 Pa. 669, 331 A.2d 189 (1975); Commonwealth v. Richards, 458 Pa. 455, 327 A.2d 63 (1974). However, since probable cause for arrest depends upon the particular facts of the case, each case must be analyzed in light of its own particular circumstances. Commonwealth v. Youngblood, 241 Pa. Super. 72, 359 A.2d 456 (1976).

In the instant case, the arresting officer, Officer McIlvaine, knew more than most what the suspect was wearing. The officer also knew what kind of clothes the suspect's companion was wearing and in which direction and street the men were walking. More significantly, the officer had reason to believe that appellant and his companion had committed a crime because ...


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