Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, at No. 2400 Feb. Term, 1985.
John Packel, Chief, Appeals, Assistant Public Defender, Philadelphia, for appellant.
Jane C. Greenspan, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Com., appellee.
Brosky, Johnson and Lipez, JJ. Johnson, J. concurs in the result.
[ 355 Pa. Super. Page 312]
This appeal is from the judgment of sentence imposed after appellant was found guilty in a bench trial of unauthorized use of an automobile. Appellant's sole contention is that the stop of the automobile he was driving was improper and, thus, that the trial court erred in refusing to suppress evidence seized as a result of that stop. We agree with appellant, and, accordingly, vacate the judgment of sentence and remand this case for a new trial.
Appellant was arrested on February 5, 1985 and charged with theft, receiving stolen property and unauthorized use of an automobile. Prior to trial, appellant litigated a motion to suppress physical evidence on the ground that it was fruit of an illegal stop. The trial court denied the motion on May 2, 1985 and the case proceeded immediately to a bench trial. The trial judge found appellant guilty only of the charge of unauthorized use of an automobile. Appellant timely filed post-verdict motions which were denied by the court below. On July 30, 1985, appellant was sentenced to twelve months probation. This appeal timely followed.
Appellant contends that the trial court erred in denying his suppression motion.
[ 355 Pa. Super. Page 313]
In reviewing this ruling our initial task is to determine whether the factual findings are supported by the record. "In making this determination, we are to consider only the evidence of the prosecution's witnesses and so much evidence of the prosecution's witnesses and so much evidence of the defense as, fairly read in the context of the record as a whole, remains uncontradicted." Commonwealth v. Goodwin, 460 Pa. 516, 522, 333 A.2d 892, 895 (1975). If, when so viewed, the evidence supports the factual findings we are bound by such findings; we may only reverse if the legal conclusions drawn therefrom are in error.
Commonwealth v. Johnson, 467 Pa. 146, 151-52, 354 A.2d 886, 889 (1976) (footnote omitted).
Viewed in that light, the record reveals the following: On February 5, 1985, at 2:30 a.m., Philadelphia Police Officer William Humes observed appellant driving a 1984 Toyota Celica. The officer observed that the metal and plastic surrounding the car's headlights were twisted up and that there was a large scrape on the driver's side which extended from the front fender to the rear fender.
Because the car was new and the damage appeared to be fresh, the officer stopped the vehicle pursuant to a policy of the Philadelphia Police Department to stop cars with such damage to determine whether an accident report, if necessary, was filed. Appellant was unable to produce a driver's license and registration when asked to do so by Officer Humes. The officer then had a computer check run on the vehicle and was informed that the car was owned by Hertz Rent-a-Car Company. Although appellant had told Officer Humes that the car was a rental, he could not produce any documents showing that he had rented the vehicle. The officer then placed appellant under arrest and impounded the car. When Hertz ...