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04/21/97 COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. LEONARDO

April 21, 1997

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
LEONARDO COLLAZO, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence Dated April 29, 1996, In the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Criminal Division, No. 4329-95. Before CARPENTER, J.

Before: McEWEN, P.j., and Beck and Kelly, JJ. Opinion BY Beck, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Beck

OPINION BY BECK, J.

FILED APR 21 1997

The issue is whether a Terry *fn1 stop is lawful where a citizen approaches a police officer and describes the suspect and his alleged criminal activity with particular specificity. We find that the Terry stop is lawful.

Appellant was convicted of Possession of Marijuana, 35 P.S. § 780-113 (a) (31), and sentenced to thirty days probation and a $100.00 fine. He argues on appeal that the drugs that were recovered, as well as his post-arrest statements, should have been suppressed. He also claims he was entitled to a jury trial. We affirm.

The trial court opinion set forth the following facts. One afternoon, as he was leaving a police department sub-station, Officer Claude LaCombe was approached by a man who told the Officer that an individual was selling drugs at a nearby intersection. The suspect was described as wearing a black hat and blue shirt and riding a gold bicycle. After calling for assistance, Officer LaCombe went to the intersection where he saw appellant talking to two people who were sitting on the corner. Appellant was wearing a black hat and blue shirt and was straddling a gold bicycle.

Officer LaCombe immediately approached appellant and told him he had information that appellant was selling drugs. The officer asked appellant if he had any drugs and appellant replied that he did not. The officer then asked if he could search appellant and his bicycle. Appellant indicated to the officer that he could conduct the search and when the officer explained to appellant that he was entitled to stop the search at any time, appellant allowed the search to commence and did not attempt to end it.

A pat-down of appellant's person revealed a knife in his pocket. A search of the bicycle's basket uncovered a bag filled with smaller bags containing marijuana. Appellant was placed under arrest and given his Miranda warnings. As he was being placed in the patrol car, appellant asked police if he could leave his bicycle with one of the persons to whom he had been speaking. The officers obliged.

Appellant's first claim is that Officer LaCombe was not authorized to stop and question him based only on the information given by the citizen. Appellant argues that absent Officer LaCombe's personal observation of appellant engaging in suspicious/criminal activity, the officer's reliance on the tip was insufficient and the drugs must be suppressed.

Our standard of review of a denial of suppression is whether the record supports the trial court's factual findings and whether the legal Conclusions drawn therefrom are free from error. Commonwealth v. Merkt, 411 Pa. Super. 127, 600 A.2d 1297 (1992).

We conclude that this issue is controlled by the holding of In the Interest of S.D., 429 Pa. Super. 576, 633 A.2d 172 (1993). Although there are three separate opinions in S.D., all panel members agreed that the officer was justified in making the initial stop. Police were told by a pedestrian that two armed black men with drugs were on a certain street corner. Police went to the location, observed S.D. there with another man and immediately conducted a pat-down search. The officer who searched S.D. felt a large, hard object in one of his pockets which turned out to be cocaine. On the issue of suppression, the S.D. court held that the initial stop of the men was justified based on the pedestrian's tip. *fn2 The court noted that an officer need not personally observe suspicious activity in order to conduct an investigatory stop under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889, 88 S. Ct. 1868 (1968), stating: "Identified citizens who report their observations of criminal activity to police are assumed to be trustworthy, in the absence of special circumstances." S.D., supra at , 633 A.2d at 174. Further, the stop in S.D. was supported by the relevant factors to be considered in such cases, namely, the specificity of the description, the proximity of the crime to the sighting of the suspect, the time and place of the confrontation and the nature of the offense. Id.

Here, Officer LaCombe received a face-to-face citizen's complaint of a crime in progress. When he promptly arrived at the location, the officer observed appellant, matching exactly the detailed description given by the citizen. Officer LaCombe then approached appellant and began speaking with him about the information he had received. Under the authority of S.D., the initial stop and questioning of appellant was proper. See also Commonwealth v. Stokes, 480 Pa. 38, 389 A.2d 74 (1978) (victim and eyewitness information regarding the commission of a crime sufficient to establish probable cause); Commonwealth v. Hamme, 400 Pa. Super. 537, 583 A.2d 1245 (1990) (police can rely on "information from other officers or citizen witnesses;" officer made valid Terry stop based on other officer's observation of suspect's erratic driving).

We caution that the authority of a police officer in these circumstances is limited. He or she is permitted only to "approach and briefly detain" a potential suspect "for investigatory purposes." Commonwealth v. Arch, 439 Pa. Super. 606, 654 A.2d 1141, 1143 (1995). In Arch, this court noted that while an officer is prohibited from relying on an "unparticularized suspicion" or a "hunch" as a basis for a Terry stop, he or she may rely on a police radio broadcast if the suspect matches the specific description given by the ...


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