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Commonwealth v. Jones

July 27, 2009

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT
v.
AARON L. JONES



Appeal from the Order Entered March 7, 2008, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Criminal Division at No. 200518797.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ford Elliott, P.J.

BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J., LALLY-GREEN AND ALLEN, JJ.

OPINION

¶ 1 This is an appeal by the Commonwealth from an order granting appellee's motion to suppress. We reverse and remand.

¶ 2 On September 6, 2005, at approximately 10:45 p.m., Detective Edward Fallert, of the Pittsburgh Police Narcotics Division, was on a routine patrol of the Homewood neighborhood in Pittsburgh with two other Pittsburgh Police officers, Detective Mark Goob and Sergeant Snyder.*fn1 The three police officers were traveling on North Murtland Street in an unmarked vehicle that was equipped with a siren and spotlight. Located at 1005 North Murtland Street was a house known to police to be a location where drugs were frequently consumed by various individuals and also dealt to others.*fn2

(Notes of testimony, suppression hearing, 1/7/08 at 4-5.)

¶ 3 As the officers approached this location, they were able to observe two men on the front porch. Detective Fallert, who was driving the vehicle, stopped the car in front of the residence and shone the spotlight on the porch area. From its parked position, Detective Fallert estimated the distance from the vehicle to the front porch to be ten feet. As the porch was illuminated by the spotlight, Detective Fallert observed one of the men, subsequently identified as Dewon Edmonds, toss a baggie containing suspected crack cocaine into nearby shrubbery. The officers immediately exited the automobile and approached Mr. Edmonds with the intention of placing him under arrest.

¶ 4 As the officers approached Edmonds and began the process of placing him under arrest, Detective Fallert, who was still seated in the vehicle, observed appellee, who was leaning against or sitting upon the porch railing, similarly remove a baggie from his pants and discard it to his left hand side. Detective Fallert exited the vehicle, approached appellee, looked to the area where appellee had discarded the baggie and, upon observing a baggie in the appropriate location, ordered appellee to his feet and placed him under arrest. After handing appellee over to Detective Goob, Detective Fallert retrieved the baggie, which indeed contained a substance resembling crack cocaine, a fact later confirmed by laboratory testing. Both men were then taken into custody. Appellee was subsequently charged with single counts of possession of a controlled substance and possession with intent to deliver ("PWID") a controlled substance.

¶ 5 On June 2, 2006, appellee filed a motion to suppress alleging that the police lacked a basis to conduct an investigative detention and also that illegal police conduct "forced" the abandonment of the contraband subsequently seized. A hearing on appellee's motion was held on January 7, 2008. On March 7, 2008, after consideration of briefs filed by both parties, the court granted appellee's motion to suppress. The Commonwealth subsequently filed a notice of appeal containing certification under Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 311(d) that the order appealed from has the effect of substantially handicapping or effectively terminating the prosecution of appellee.

¶ 6 In the present appeal, the Commonwealth asks:

Did the suppression court err in granting Appellee's Motion to Suppress Evidence by holding that an unconstitutional search and/or seizure occurred where the police, parked on a public street, used a spotlight to illuminate the porch of a residence, known to be a local crack house and not owned by Appellee, but where Appellee was seated, and subsequent to another individual on the porch being arrested, he then discarded contraband from his pocket?

Commonwealth's brief at 5.

¶ 7 Our standard of review in an appeal from the granting of a suppression motion is well established:

As an appellate court reviewing the ruling of a suppression court, we consider only the evidence from the defendant's witnesses together with the evidence of the prosecution that, when read in the context of the entire record, remains uncontradicted. We must first ascertain whether the record supports the factual findings of the suppression court, and then determine the reasonableness of the inferences and legal conclusions drawn therefrom. The suppression ...


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