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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. TRACEY LYNN WILLIAMS AND MAUREEN ZIMMERMAN (05/08/81)

filed: May 8, 1981.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT,
v.
TRACEY LYNN WILLIAMS AND MAUREEN ZIMMERMAN



No. 292 Pittsburgh, 1980, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Criminal Division, at Nos. CC7905974 and CC7905975.

COUNSEL

Robert L. Eberhardt, Deputy District Attorney, Pittsburgh, for Commonwealth, appellant.

George G. Mahfood, Pittsburgh, for Williams, appellee.

Joseph G. Kanfoush, Pittsburgh, for Zimmerman, appellee.

Price, Cavanaugh, and Hoffman, JJ. Price, J., dissents.

Author: Hoffman

[ 287 Pa. Super. Page 21]

The Commonwealth contends that the lower court erred in suppressing a quantity of drugs seized from appellees. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the order of the lower court.

At approximately 12:30 a.m. on September 23, 1979, Officer Harry Fruecht was on patrol in Upper St. Clair when he saw two cars parked in the middle of a dark, abandoned, private parking lot of a swimming pool which was being salvaged. The two cars were parallel to each other and were facing the street. Appellees were seated in the front of one of the cars, a Plymouth. Another person was standing at the right front door of that car. Officer Fruecht testified that because of the late hour and the fact that there had been recent reports of residential burglaries in the immediate area, he decided to approach the vehicle and ask the three people for identification. On cross-examination, however, he admitted that he had received no report of any criminal activity that evening nor had he observed anything indicating that criminal activity was afoot. Officer Fruecht parked his marked patrol car next to the Plymouth, approached the right side of it on foot, and asked the three what they had been doing. Someone replied that they had been talking. The officer then requested identification from all three. As appellee Tracey Lynn Williams (who was in the right front seat) opened her purse to get some identification, the officer shined his flashlight into her purse, and saw a small plastic bag containing a substance which he believed to be marijuana.*fn1 After producing her identification, Ms. Williams closed her purse, whereupon Officer Fruecht questioned her about the bag. She denied that she possessed such a bag. The officer then reached into the car, grabbed the purse, took it to the front of the car, and emptied its contents onto the hood. In addition to the plastic bag containing marijuana, he found two plastic vials containing

[ 287 Pa. Super. Page 22]

    some pills, and a number of small plastic bags containing white powder. Officer Fruecht asked Ms. Williams to get out of the car, and he arrested her. As she was getting out, she exposed a brown paper bag which had been on the floor at her feet. The bag had been tipped over and opened, revealing a second larger plastic bag of marijuana. The officer then confiscated the brown bag, ordered appellee Maureen J. Zimmerman from the car, and placed her under arrest.

Appellees were charged with several violations of the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.*fn2 Appellees subsequently filed a motion to suppress, alleging that the drugs were seized unlawfully and that their arrests therefore lacked probable cause. After a hearing, at which Officer Fruecht was the only witness, the lower court granted appellees' motion. The lower court reasoned that because Officer Fruecht had forcibly detained appellees without adequate justification, the evidence which he seized must be suppressed. This appeal followed.

In Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 13, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 1875-76, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968) (footnotes omitted), the United States Supreme Court stated:

Street encounters between citizens and police officers are incredibly rich in diversity. They range from wholly friendly exchanges of pleasantries or mutually useful information to hostile confrontations of armed men involving arrests, or injuries, or loss of life. Moreover, hostile confrontations are not all of a piece. Some of them begin in a friendly enough manner, only to take a different turn upon the injection of some unexpected element into the conversation. Encounters are initiated by the police for a wide variety of purposes, some of which are wholly unrelated to a desire to prosecute for crime. Doubtless some police "field interrogation" ...


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