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Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Keith Arron Miller

November 20, 2012

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT
v.
KEITH ARRON MILLER, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order Entered April 21, 2011 In the Court of Common Pleas of York County Criminal No(s).: CP-67-CR-0000386-2011

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fitzgerald, J.

J. S71033/11

BEFORE: BOWES, COLVILLE*fn1 , and FITZGERALD*fn2 , JJ.

OPINION BY FITZGERALD, J.:

Appellant, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, appeals*fn3 from the order entered in the York County Court of Common Pleas, granting the motion to suppress of Appellee, Keith Arron Miller. We hold that Appellee has not established a reasonable expectation of privacy in the property searched.

In its opinion, the trial court summarized the evidence:

On October 24, 2010, at approximately 11:30 p.m. the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) were patrolling the area of Muddy Creek in Delta, Pennsylvania, following a report of a stolen vehicle. PSP received a call from police in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, that they were investigating a stolen van that was equipped with a "LoJack type" GPS system. Anne Arundel provided GPS coordinates indicating the van was located in the Muddy Creek Road area. Corporal [Alan] Trees and several other troopers patrolled and checked driveways attempting to locate the van. Corporal Trees located a clearing which contained several large trailers and he asked Trooper [Justin] Dembowski to enter and search the clearing for the van.

Corporal Trees described the clearing as follows:

"If you are facing the clearing from Muddy Creek Road, there is a small drive that goes into the clearing. I believe it was either dirt or gravel. In the clearing, there was a trailer that was like a semi tractor trailer type structure, then there was a small box that would have been like the back side of a U-Haul, just the box, not the truck. The large trailer was parallel to Muddy Creek Road, and the box was further back and actually facing the roadway."

There were residences in the area; however, not in the clearing. If standing in the clearing, the nearest residence was 150 yards through the woods. The corner of the first trailer, the larger one which sat parallel to the roadway, was approximately three car lengths from the roadway. Corporal Trees testified that it did not appear that anyone was living in the trailers, and he did not observe any "No Trespassing["] signs or fences around the area.

After Trooper Dembowski searched the clearing, he requested that Corporal Trees meet him in the area. They stood by the trailer in the clearing and Trooper Dembowski explained that he had found several items in the clearing that appeared to be from stolen vehicles, such as pipe fittings and tools. Corporal Trees viewed the tools at the corner of the large trailer that sat parallel to the road. In order to check behind the trailer for the stolen van, he had to walk by the items on the ground. As the troopers were standing by the trailer talking, Corporal Trees was notified via radio that the owner of the stolen vehicle reported that tools were also stolen and had the name "Cotton" printed on the cases. Corporal Trees looked down and directly in front of him were the cases with "Cotton" written across the front of them. The troopers did not find the stolen van in the clearing. At that time, Corporal Trees and Trooper Dembowski requested a PSP investigator apply for a search warrant and in the meantime they would monitor the closest intersection to check vehicles coming and going from the scene.

Trooper [Bradley] Dunham prepared a search warrant for the property at 768 Muddy Creek Road, owned by Wayne Miller, Sr., where the trailers and tools were located. The warrant was signed on October 25, 2010, at 5:00 a.m. Troopers executed the search warrant and seized the tools, a stolen vehicle (not the van), and a stolen excavator.

Trial Ct. Op., 6/29/11, at 1-3 (citations omitted).

On October 26, 2010, a criminal complaint was filed against Appellee charging him with owning, operating, or conducting a chop shop,*fn4 and eight counts of receiving stolen property.*fn5 On March 21, 2011, Appellee filed a motion to suppress. On April 18, 2011, the court held an evidentiary hearing on Appellee's motion. The trial ...


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