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UNITED STATES v. RICKUS

May 12, 1983

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ROBERT F. RICKUS, DENNIS M. NAZAROK



The opinion of the court was delivered by: TROUTMAN

 TROUTMAN, J.

 Presently before the Court are defendants' motions to suppress certain physical evidence seized by police from the defendants and from the automobile which the defendants were driving on the early morning of June 27, 1982. Also before the Court are the defendants' motions to suppress an alleged statement made by defendant Dennis Nazarok to police on the same date. Defendants contend that the subject matter of their suppression motions is the fruit of an illegal stop, arrest and search in violation of their Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. Our determination of the issues is based upon the suppression hearing testimony of Officer Thomas Halpin of the Northampton Township Police Department, the prior testimony of Officer Thomas Halpin at a preliminary hearing before a Pennsylvania District Judge, and certain stipulated facts as to the testimony of Sergeant Charles Quaste and Officer Edward Berwind, who assisted Officer Halpin on the morning in question.

 The threshold issue concerns the legality of the stop itself. An improper stop would taint all evidence subsequently obtained and thus result in its suppression. Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 485-486, 9 L. Ed. 2d 441, 83 S. Ct. 407 (1963), Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 659, 6 L. Ed. 2d 1081, 81 S. Ct. 1684 (1961). However, if the stop was proper, the Court must then determine whether probable cause existed for the subsequent arrest, search and seizure. *fn1" If the investigating officers were without probable cause at the time they arrested the defendants and searched the vehicle, all evidence obtained during the search must likewise be suppressed. Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. at 485-486 (1963); Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. at 654 (1961).

 The defendants contend that the law of Pennsylvania controls the resolution of this matter. Generally, the legality of a stop, arrest or search which is conducted by a state officer pursuant to state law must be determined under state law. United States v. Di Re, 332 U.S. 581, 589, 92 L. Ed. 210, 68 S. Ct. 222 (1948); United States v. Day, 455 F.2d 454, 455 (3d Cir. 1972). However, in a federal trial on federal offenses, the admissability of evidence obtained as a result of a search and seizure, is controlled by federal law. *fn2" This is true "even where the evidence has been obtained by state officers who may have violated state law". United States v. Sotomayor, 592 F.2d 1219, 1223 (2nd Cir. 1979). As long as the evidence was lawfully obtained under federal law, it is admissible in federal court. United States v. Armocida, 515 F.2d 49, 52 (3d Cir. 1975). An exception to this rule arises where a state court, interpreting the state constitution, imposes greater restrictions on police activity than those imposed by the United States Supreme Court under a parallel provision of the United States Constitution. Oregon v. Hass, 420 U.S. 714, 719-720, 43 L. Ed. 2d 570, 95 S. Ct. 1215 (1975); United States v. Bedford, 519 F.2d 650, 654 n. 3 (3d Cir. 1975). Under these circumstances, the state court's interpretation of its constitution is binding on the federal court. *fn3"

 We initially direct our attention to the legality of the stop. In view of the "practical necessities of effective law enforcement", *fn4" it is well established that

 
[a] brief stop of a suspicious individual, in order to determine his identity or maintain the status quo momentarily while obtaining more information may be most reasonable in light of the facts known to the officer at the time.

 Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143, 146, 32 L. Ed. 2d 612, 92 S. Ct. 1921 (1972). Such limited intrusions are justified even though the investigating officer is, at that moment, without probable cause to arrest. Id. at 145; Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 22, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889 (1968). This may be particularly true where the suspect is travelling by automobile. A motorist's extreme mobility would otherwise enable him to avoid confrontation by police. *fn5" Nonetheless, a police officer may not conduct a so-called investigatory stop absent specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences drawn therefrom, create a reasonable suspicion that the motorist is engaged in criminal activity. Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. at 148; Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. at 21.

 The facts surrounding the instant stop are as follows: Early in the morning of June 27, 1982, Officer Thomas Halpin was sitting in his patrol car in a parking lot near Second Street Pike in the business district of Richboro, Pennsylvania. He twice observed within a thirty minute span what he believed to be the same black and gold Buick. At the time of the second sighting, the Buick was travelling at an extremely slow speed through the then closed commercial district. Suspicions aroused, the officer followed the vehicle through the commercial district and into a nearby residential area. Knowing that the neighborhood had recently been victimized by perhaps as many as twelve unsolved late night or early morning burglaries, he called for assistance in following the car. Sergeant Charles Quaste and Officer Edward Berwind, who were patrolling nearby in an unmarked police car, responded to the call. Both police cars followed the Buick through the residential area for several minutes. During that time, the car continued to travel at a slow rate of speed and, at one point, stopped momentarily in front of a residence. Finally, when the car made a legal U-turn to return toward the direction from which it came, Officer Halpin pulled in front of the car and stopped it. Sergeant Quaste and Officer Berwind continued on in their vehicle.

 We confine our consideration of the legality of the stop to the above facts. Subsequent events are not relevant to this determination. See e.g., United States v. Harris, 482 F.2d 1115, 1117 (3d Cir. 1973). Defendants argue that the stop was improper because the information known to Officer Halpin at the time was insufficient to justify an investigatory stop. More particularly, they contend that the officer can point to no specific and articulable facts from which he could rationally infer, based upon his experience, that criminal activity was afoot. We disagree.

 A police officer who, at a given point in time, lacks probable cause to arrest suspicious individuals is not required by the Fourth Amendment "to simply shrug his shoulders and allow a crime to occur or a criminal to escape". To the contrary, a police officer may be delinquent in his duty if, under the appropriate circumstances, he refrains from briefly stopping and questioning such individuals as to their identities and suspicious behavior. Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. at 145-46; United States v. Hensel, 509 F. Supp. 1376, 1387 (D.C. Me. 1981), aff'd mem., 699 F.2d 18 (1st Cir. 1983). In considering a similar factual issue the Ninth Circuit held that

 
[police] officers were not required to rule out all possibility of innocent behavior before initiating a brief stop and request for identification. The test is founded suspicion, not probable cause. Even if it was equally probable that the vehicle or its occupants were innocent of any wrongdoing, police officers must be permitted to act before their belief is verified by escape or fruition of the harm it was their duty to prevent. (emphasis in original).

 Following the stop, Officer Halpin approached the Buick. Its driver, defendant Dennis Nazarok, exited and met the patrolman a few steps from it. Nazarok was unable to produce any identification, so the officer inquired as to the car's ownership. Nazarok returned to the Buick to search the glove compartment for a registration card; meanwhile, from outside the vehicle, Officer Halpin observed a screwdriver and pliers on the rear floor. He also saw some maps and a flashlight on the front seat. While Nazarok was searching through the glove compartment, the patrolman asked the passenger, defendant Robert Rickus, for identification. Initially, Rickus did not respond, but, following a second request, he too stated he had no identification with him. At or about this time, Sergeant Quaste and Officer Berwind returned to the scene. Nazarok got back out of the car, produced a no-fault insurance card in the name of Bernadette Nazarok of Roslyn, Pa., and identified himself as Dennis Nazarok. Officer Halpin asked the passenger to get out of the car also. He eventually got out and identified himself as Bob Rickus of Philadelphia. Rickus was standing near the rear fender of the Buick and twice was seen backing away from the car. On both occasions one of the assisting officers asked that he move back to the vehicle. Officer Halpin asked the defendants where they had been and both replied that they had been drinking at several bars. However, neither could ...


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