No. 142 March Term, 1977, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County, Criminal Division, No. 2032 of 1975.
Marilyn C. Zilli, Assistant Public Defender, Harrisburg, for appellant.
Marion E. MacIntyre, Second Assistant District Attorney, Harrisburg, for Commonwealth, appellee.
Jacobs, President Judge, and Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort, Spaeth and Hester, JJ. Van der Voort, J., dissents. Hester, J., files a dissenting statement. Jacobs, former President Judge, and Hoffman, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.
[ 265 Pa. Super. Page 321]
On February 3, 1976, appellant was found guilty of theft by unlawful taking*fn1 following a non-jury trial. Post-trial motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment were denied. Appellant's sole assertion on appeal is that the court below erred in refusing to suppress physical evidence uncovered by a parole officer and admitted at trial. We are constrained to agree with appellant, and therefore reverse the court below and order a new trial.
The pertinent facts are the following. On August 18, 1975, Parole Officer Connie Briggs of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole received a telephone call at approximately 10:00 p. m., from one Frank Bagshaw, Jr., an employee of Automotive Warehouse, Inc. Mr. Bagshaw revealed that he knew the location of a garage containing items stolen by appellant from Automotive Warehouse. At that time, appellant was under supervision by the Board of Probation and Parole, specifically under Agent Ray Dadigan's supervision, not that of Agent Briggs. Nevertheless, because Agent Briggs was unable to locate Dadigan, he arranged to meet Mr. Bagshaw and, with backup support from two Harrisburg policemen, proceeded to investigate Bagshaw's story.
Appellant leased two of five adjoining garages owned by Michael Johnson, who unlocked the garage door and admitted Briggs and party. Inside, a two and one-half hour inspection ensued, during which $7,600 worth of stolen automotive parts was uncovered. Detective Martin Lesko of the Harrisburg Police Department was called to the scene. On the basis of information received from Messrs. Briggs and Bagshaw, a nighttime search warrant was secured. The goods were subsequently identified as those stolen from Automotive Warehouse, and provided the basis for appellant's arrest and ultimate conviction.
[ 265 Pa. Super. Page 322]
The issue before us is the legality of the initial search. Unless that intrusion is found to pass constitutional muster, the seizure based on the subsequently obtained warrant must also fail. Based exclusively on information derived from the initial search, the warrant would have produced only poisonous fruit. Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 83 S.Ct. 407, 9 L.Ed.2d 441 (1963).
In Commonwealth v. Brown, 240 Pa. Super. 190, 361 A.2d 846 (1976), this court was faced with an issue of first impression in this Commonwealth, i. e., the province of a parole officer, in performing his normal duties, to search a parolee's premises sans warrant. In that case, a manufacturing company reported the theft of a television set, stereo receiver, speakers and tapes. Later, a counselor at a community treatment center told the appellant's parole officer that the appellant had the stolen goods in his home. During his next visit to the parolee's home, the agent saw a television set and stereo system. After receiving a detailed description of the goods from the company, the agent informed the company that he believed the appellant had committed the burglary, and the company decided to press charges. The parole agent requested that two police officers accompany him to the appellant's home. The group was admitted to the apartment by a woman; the stolen goods were immediately identified by the manufacturing company; and the appellant was arrested.
The Brown majority reversed the lower court and ordered suppression because, even though it determined that a person's fourth amendment rights are diminished when one is on parole, it found that the agent had gone beyond his role as a parole agent. The court declared that:
"The basis for holding that a parolee has diminished Fourth Amendment rights is the necessity for an agent to have free access to supervise the parolee. . . . We, therefore, agree that when performing his normal duties, a parole agent is not required to obtain a ...