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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. THOMAS HARRIS (03/26/82)

filed: March 26, 1982.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
THOMAS HARRIS, APPELLANT



NO. 1035 APRIL TERM, 1979, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Allegheny County, at No. 7806632A.

COUNSEL

John H. Corbett, Jr., Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Dara A. DeCourcy, Assistant District Attorney, Pittsburgh, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Hester, Brosky and Van der Voort, JJ. Brosky, J., files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Van Der Voort

[ 297 Pa. Super. Page 310]

Appellant was convicted of robbery and sentenced to a term of seven and one half (7 1/2) years imprisonment. On appeal, appellant raises five issues, which we will resolve seriatim. Finding no merit to any of these claims we affirm the judgment of sentence.

[ 297 Pa. Super. Page 311]

I. On November 10, 1978, at 10:20 a. m., the Pittsburgh National Bank branch office located in the William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh was robbed by three or four masked, black men, one of whom was armed. A sum of $11,000 was taken and placed in a yellow pillow case. During the robbery, a surveillance camera and silent alarm in the bank were activated. The police responded immediately. Shortly after the occurrence of the robbery a description of the men was transmitted via police radio.

The broadcast reported that the suspects had fled, running through the lobby of the William Penn Hotel. Two police officers were at the intersection of Bedford Avenue and Crawford Street, several blocks from the bank, when they received the radio information. These officers spoke with a cab driver whom they had observed a few minutes earlier transporting three or four black men, one of whom was wearing clothing which fit the description broadcasted. The driver told the officers that he had picked up the passengers behind the William Penn Hotel. He informed them that he had discharged his passengers near the Connelly Trade School and that they had run down the hillside.

The police moved into the area of the school and quickly apprehended the appellant and two other suspects whom they observed moving in a suspicious manner. No one else was observed on the hillside. A yellow pillow case containing some of the stolen money was recovered along with various items of discarded outer clothing, including ski masks which matched descriptions given by witnesses. The arrests occurred less than one mile from the robbery scene, only 40 minutes having lapsed from the time of the robbery.

Appellant argues that his arrest, based only on a general description was without probable cause. We disagree.

[It was] held in Commonwealth v. Brooks, 468 Pa. 547, 364 A.2d 652 (1976), that probable cause is essential to the legality of arrest, meaning that the facts and circumstances known to the police or about which they have reasonably trustworthy information at the time of the arrest must be sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable

[ 297 Pa. Super. Page 312]

    caution in believing the suspect has committed or is committing a crime. The Commonwealth has the burden to establish probable cause with reasonable specificity and mere suspicion is not enough. Commonwealth v. Jones, 457 Pa. 423, 322 A.2d 119 (1974). See also Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 85 S.Ct. 223, 13 L.Ed.2d 142 (1964).

Commonwealth v. Bartlett, 486 Pa. 396, 400, 406 A.2d 340 (1979).

In Commonwealth v. Bynum, 265 Pa. Super. 13, 401 A.2d 776 (1979), we explained that although general descriptions of a suspect which are equally applicable to large numbers of people will not ususally support a finding of probable cause, . . . each case must be analyzed in light of its own particular circumstances. Among the circumstances which we considered as providing probable cause in that case were the fact that the appellant was arrested at a location and a time close to that of the crime. We also noted that the arrested persons were the only people seen by the police in that area. See also Commonwealth v. Powers, 484 Pa. 198, 398 A.2d 1013 (1979).

Similarly, under the circumstances present in this case, we find that a person of reasonable caution would be justified in believing the appellant to have committed a crime. See Commonwealth v. Bartlett, 486 Pa. 396, 406 A.2d 340 (1979). Appellant was arrested at a place and time close to that of the robbery, he fit generally the description of one of the suspects, he and his companions were the only persons spotted in the area and they were moving in a suspicious manner. A cab driver had taken three men from the scene of the robbery to the locality where the three were arrested.

II. Appellant was arrested at approximately 11:00 a. m. He was questioned by City of Pittsburgh detectives at the Public Safety Building at 11:30 a. m. Appellant indicated that his role in the robbery was to go behind the tellers' counters and remove money from the drawers. He identified a yellow pillow case as one used in the robbery. Before such interview ...


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