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Commonwealth v. Williams

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

July 9, 2013


Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence March 27, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-51-CR-0006821-2011



STEVENS, P. Judge.

Andre Williams (hereinafter "Appellant") appeals from the judgment of sentence entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County on March 27, 2012, at which time he received an aggregate sentence of one and one half (1½) years to five (5) years in prison following his convictions of Forgery, Theft Receiving Stolen Property, Theft by Unlawful Taking and Theft by Deception.[1] Upon our review of the record, we affirm.

The trial court aptly set forth the facts herein as follows:

On April 5th, 2011 at approximately 5:00 p.m., Philadelphia Police Officer Tevin Garrett was on duty in the area of 1500 Market Street. N.T. 11/8/11, p. 6. Officer Garrett testified that from 1994 to 2007, he was assigned to the pick pocket detail where he learned that pick pocketing occurs most frequently at various locations around the city including the aforementioned block. Id. at 6. Around 5:00 p.m. Officer Garrett observed [Appellant] walking towards his patrol car. Upon coming up directly next to the Officer's Patrol vehicle, [Appellant] placed a Banana Republic shopping bag and another unidentified shopping bag on the ground directly next to the vehicle. N.T., 2/6/2012, p. 15. Officer Garrett[2] then approached [Appellant] and attempted to engage him in conversation. Id. The Officer testified that he had had approximately eight previous encounters with [Appellant] at various destinations in the Center City area for forgery and theft. Id. at 8 and 10. [Appellant] never answered the question of where he was coming from and gave a false name when asked to identify himself. Id. Officer Garrett then reached into the top of the shopping bag and pulled out a receipt. Id. After seeing that the items in the bag were purchased with a credit card, and that the last four digits of the card were 0038, Officer Garrett asked [Appellant] to produce the credit card. Id. [Appellant] initially produced neither a credit card nor a wallet. Id. at 9. When this [Appellant] did ultimately produce a wallet, Officer Garrett found a Master Card identified with the name Nancy Campbell and containing the last four digits, 0038. Id. Additionally from the wallet was recovered a number of other cards in the name of Nancy Campbell as well as eight SEPTA monthly transpasses and one monthly Trailpass. NT 2/6/12 at 22. At this time Officer Garrett did place [Appellant] under arrest. Id. at 20.
On the same date, April 5, 2011, Nancy Campbell testified that she was in Center City Philadelphia on a business trip, staying at the Warwick Radisson Hotel. Id. at 25. At approximately 12:30 in the afternoon, Ms. Campbell looked in her purse and noted that her wallet was inside. Around this time, she went to the hotel's coffee bar where she hung her purse from the back of her chair. Id. at 27, 32. While sitting in the coffee bar, Ms. Campbell did see [Appellant], previously unknown to her, standing near the valet booth by a door which exits to the street. Id. at 32. At approximately 6:30 that evening, the complainant Ms. Campbell became aware that her wallet was no longer in her possession and did eventually come to identify and pick up the contents of her wallet from the police. Id. at 30. Ms. Campbell did not give [Appellant] or anyone else permission to possess or use the cards in her wallet. Id. at 33. She testified that approximately $1, 200 was charged to her credit card at Banana Republic on the day in question without her authorization. Id. at 35. In addition, that day her credit card was used to purchase a SEPTA monthly pass, and a Sears gift card, all without her authorization. Id.

In an order filed on November 10, 2011, the trial court denied Appellant's motion to suppress. Appellant waived his right to a jury trial, and the trial court found Appellant guilty of all charges following a waiver trial. Appellant was sentenced on March 27, 2012, and filed a timely notice of appeal on April 12, 2012. In an Order filed on April 18, 2012, the trial court directed Appellant to file a concise statement of the errors complained of on appeal, and Appellant did so on May 4, 2012. Appellant was granted an extension of time in which to file a supplemental statement of errors upon his receipt of all notes of testimony, and he filed the same on July 9, 2012.

In his brief, Appellant raises the following Statement of Questions Involved:

A. Did not the lower court err in failing to suppress all physical evidence where [Appellant] was detained and items were seized from him, including a receipt, a wallet, the contents of that wallet and merchandise, and where [Appellant] was detained without at least reasonable suspicion and his property seized without probable cause?
B. Was not the evidence insufficient to prove that [Appellant] committed the crime of forgery in that no evidence was presented as to how [Appellant] purportedly used stolen credit cards to make any purchases, and thus no evidence was presented to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [Appellant] altered a writing, that he made, completed, executed, authenticated, issued or transferred a writing that purported to be the act of another who did not authorize the act, or that he uttered a writing known to be forged in the manner specified by the forgery statute.

Brief for Appellant at 3. We review Appellant's first claim under the following standard of review:

[I]n addressing a challenge to a trial court's denial of a suppression motion [we are] limited to determining whether the factual findings are supported by the record and whether the legal conclusions drawn from those facts are correct. Since the [Commonwealth] prevailed in the suppression court, we may consider only the evidence of the [Commonwealth] and so much of the evidence for the defense as remains uncontradicted when read in the context of the record as a whole. Where the record supports the factual findings of the trial court, we are bound by those facts and may reverse only if the legal conclusions drawn therefrom are in error.

Commonwealth v. Brown, 64 A.3d 1101, 1104 (Pa.Super. 2013) (citation omitted). In addition,

[o]ur courts have long recognized three levels of interaction that occur between the police and citizens that are relevant to the analysis of whether a particular search or seizure conforms to the requirements of U.S. CONST. amend. IV and P.A. CONST. art. I, § 8.
The first of these is a "mere encounter" (or request for information) which need not be supported by any level of suspicion, but carries no official compulsion to stop or respond. The second, an "investigative detention" must be supported by reasonable suspicion; it subjects a suspect to a stop and period of detention, but does not involve such coercive conditions as to constitute the functional equivalent of arrest. Finally, an arrest or "custodial detention" must be supported by probable cause.
Commonwealth v. Phinn, 761 A.2d 176, 181 (Pa.Super.2000) (quoting Commonwealth v. Ellis, 541 Pa. 285, 662 A.2d 1043, 1047 (1995) (citations and footnotes omitted)).
[I]n assessing the lawfulness of citizen/police encounters, a central, threshold issue is whether or not the citizen-subject has been seized. Instances of police questioning involving no seizure or detentive aspect (mere or consensual encounters) need not be supported by any level of suspicion in order to maintain validity. Valid citizen/police interactions which constitute seizures generally fall within two categories, distinguished according to the degree of restraint upon a citizen's liberty: the investigative detention or Terry stop, which subjects an individual to a stop and a period of detention but is not so coercive as to constitute the functional equivalent of an arrest; and a custodial detention or arrest, the more restrictive form of permissible encounters. To maintain constitutional validity, an investigative detention must be supported by a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the person seized is engaged in criminal activity and may continue only so long as is necessary to confirm or dispel such suspicion; whereas, a custodial detention is legal only if based on probable cause. To guide the crucial inquiry as to whether or not a seizure has been effected, the United States Supreme Court has devised an objective test entailing a determination of whether, in view of all surrounding circumstances, a reasonable person would have believed that he was free to leave. In evaluating the circumstances, the focus is directed toward whether, by means of physical force or show of authority, the citizen-subject's movement has in some way been restrained. In making this determination, courts must apply the totality-of-the-circumstances approach, with no single factor dictating the ultimate conclusion as to whether a seizure has occurred.
Commonwealth v. Strickler, 563 Pa. 47, 757 A.2d 884, 889– 90 (2000) (internal citations ...

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