Appeal from the ORDER ENTERED September 26, 1996 In the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division Lackawanna County, No. 95 CR 541, 95 CR 542. Before MINORA, J.
Before: Cavanaugh, Hudock And Hester, JJ. Opinion BY Cavanaugh, J.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cavanaugh
OPINION BY CAVANAUGH, J.:
This is an appeal from an order entered by The Honorable Carmen Minora of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas dated September 26, 1996 granting defendants' Omnibus Pre-trial Motion which sought suppression of evidence and habeas corpus relief. Order affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part.
The relevant facts supported by the record are as follows: On March 31, 1995, appellees, Richard L. Gelineau and James Theobald were traveling on Interstate 81 in Lackawanna County when they were stopped by Trooper Scott R. Walck for failing to use a turn signal when changing lanes of traffic. Theobald exited the vehicle he was driving and walked toward the police car but was ordered back into the car by Trooper Walck. Subsequently, Trooper Walck approached the stopped vehicle and asked Theobald for his driver's license, registration and proof of insurance. The passenger, Gelineau, stated that the vehicle belonged to his father.
While standing by the driver side door, Trooper Walck detected a strong odor of burnt marijuana emanating from the interior of the car. He immediately called for back-up, whereupon Trooper James Seamon and Trooper Richard Seaberg arrived on the scene. The officers conducted a pat-down search of the two men and discovered marijuana residue and seeds in Gelineau's shirt pocket. At this time, Gelineau was handcuffed and placed in the back seat of a police vehicle and Theobald was handcuffed and placed on the side of the highway. The officers told appellees that they were going to search the vehicle; if they did not find anything, the men would be free to go. However, while searching the engine compartment of the vehicle, the officers found 78 one-gram baggies of a substance which, after a field test, tested positive for marijuana.
After being advised of his Miranda rights, appellee Gelineau stated that the marijuana was his and that appellee Theobald had nothing to do with it. Both men were then arrested on charges of Unlawful Possession With the Intent to Deliver a Controlled Substance, Criminal Conspiracy to Commit Possession of a Controlled Substance, Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. A preliminary hearing was held on April 10, 1995 before District Justice Terrance Gallagher who ruled that a prima facie case was established on all charges.
On February 28, 1996, Gelineau's attorney filed an Omnibus Pre-trial Motion which sought habeas corpus relief and suppression of evidence. This motion was orally adopted by Theobald's attorney. On March 5, 1996, the trial court granted the Commonwealth's Motion to Consolidate Gelineau's and Theobald's cases. After a suppression hearing at which the Commonwealth presented the testimony of Troopers Walck and Seamon, the trial court granted appellees' motion to suppress all of the evidence obtained and appellees' motion for habeas corpus relief. The Commonwealth appeals raising the following questions for our review: *fn1
1. Whether the trial court erred as a matter of law in suppressing all the evidence seized pursuant to a search of the defendants' vehicle after the vehicle was stopped for a traffic offense; and
2. Whether the trial court erred as a matter of law when, after suppressing all of the evidence, it dismissed the Commonwealth's case by granting the defendants' motion for habeas corpus relief.
Our standard of reviewing the granting of a suppression motion is well-settled:
In reviewing an appeal by the Commonwealth from an order suppressing evidence, "we consider only the evidence of the defendant's witnesses and so much of the Commonwealth evidence that, read in the context of the record as a whole, remains uncontradicted." Commonwealth v. Evans, 443 Pa. Super. 351, 355, 661 A.2d 881, 883 (1995) [, aff'd 546 Pa. 417, 685 A.2d 535 (1996)]. We are bound by only those factual findings made by the suppression court which are supported by the record, and thereafter must determine whether the legal Conclusions and inferences drawn from those facts are legitimate. Commonwealth v. Walker, 540 Pa. 80, 94, 656 A.2d 90, 97, cert. denied, U.S. , 116 S. Ct. 156, 133 L. Ed. 2d 100 (1995). As a result, we may reverse only if the legal Conclusions drawn from the factual findings are erroneous. Commonwealth v. Rosario, 438 Pa. Super. 241, 263, 652 A.2d 354, 365 (1994).
Commonwealth v. Lechner, 454 Pa. Super. 456, , 685 A.2d 1014, 1015-16 (1996). After the suppression hearing, the trial court held that the warrantless search of the Gelineau vehicle constituted an illegal search incident to arrest. It is the Commonwealth's contention, however, that they never attempted to justify the warrantless search as a search incident to arrest. Rather, the Commonwealth maintains that there was sufficient probable cause to believe that appellees' vehicle contained evidence of criminal activity and, therefore, the search constituted a valid warrantless automobile search based on ...