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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. ERIC MARTINSON (11/09/87)

filed: November 9, 1987.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT,
v.
ERIC MARTINSON, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the June 29, 1986 in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal No. 86-01-776-78.

COUNSEL

Frances G. Gerson, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Com., appellant.

John G. McDougall, Philadelphia, for appellee.

Cirillo, President Judge,*fn* and McEwen and Montemuro, JJ.

Author: Mcewen

[ 368 Pa. Super. Page 133]

The Commonwealth has taken this appeal from an order which granted appellee's motion to suppress,*fn1 and argues that the hearing court erred when it directed the suppression of evidence discovered by police officers during an inventory search of a motor vehicle in their custody. We agree and reverse.

Two Philadelphia police officers, on patrol on the Schuylkill Expressway on December 31, 1985, halted a vehicle after they had observed it endanger other vehicles by weaving back and forth in traffic, across the dividing lines, at a slow rate of speed. The vehicle was occupied by a minor female driver who was unable to provide the officers with any form of identification, and a male passenger. The operator initially lied to the police concerning her identity, had red, watery eyes, provided slow responses to questions, was unable to produce a driver's license or vehicle registration, and stated that she did not know who owned the car. As a result of her demeanor, the driver was arrested on suspicion of driving while under the influence.*fn2 Appellee,

[ 368 Pa. Super. Page 134]

    the passenger, was asleep when the vehicle was halted, but awoke to the questions of the officers and stated that he had borrowed the vehicle from a friend, and had given the minor driver permission to operate the car. When asked to produce identification, appellee got out of the car and reached for his belt, causing one of the officers to grab his arm. Appellee responded that he was merely reaching for his money and displayed to the officer a clear plastic bag of currency, later determined to be a sum in excess of $6,000.00. When appellee attempted to supply identification, he stated that he "lived in Philadelphia", but produced a Virginia driver's license issued to "Eric Martinson". The officer had noticed a Pennsylvania Welfare Department medical card in the appellee's wallet as he searched for his license. Appellee, upon request of the officer, displayed the card which had been issued to "Anthony Merkel". While the police were not certain that appellant had been drinking intoxicants, the manner of his response to their questions and the glassy condition of his eyes led them to conclude that appellee wasn't "in any better condition than [the arrested driver] was" to operate the vehicle. The officer who had the more direct contact with appellee at the scene, when asked why appellee was not allowed to drive the car from the scene, testified at the suppression hearing:

A. Well, at that time, I decided that we would take him into headquarters to find out exactly who he was.

Also, since he said he had borrowed the car from a friend, we were going to -- since we had to investigate the ownership of the car, we would take him and the vehicle in and investigate that further at headquarters.

A. I wasn't positive that Mr. Martinson was Mr. Martinson or Mr. Merkel. As I said, he had two different identifications on him, and I had some doubt as to who he was. No one had produced any information on the ownership of the car, and I didn't believe his condition was such that he would be able to drive. (emphasis supplied).

[ 368 Pa. Super. Page 135]

Immediately upon returning to the precinct, one of the officers ran a computer check on the vehicle as well as the names "Anthony Merkel" and "Eric Martinson." No record of the registration of the vehicle was discovered. The officers had, at that time, no means of ascertaining the ownership of the car as appellee had stated that he "would not give us any information once we got into the district. He said only that his name was Eric Martinson." [N.T. 35].*fn3 The computer check additionally disclosed that while no warrants were outstanding for Eric Martinson, a warrant for Anthony Merkel had been issued by the State of Maryland.

The officer further testified that he related all of this information to his supervisor who instructed him to take the car into custody until the identity of the owner could be ascertained. Subsequently, pursuant to Philadelphia Police Department regulations,*fn4 an inventory search of the car was conducted, during the ...


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