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In re L.J.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

October 30, 2013


Argued March 8, 2011.

Resubmitted August 19, 2013.

Page 1074

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1075

Appeal from the Judgment of the Superior Court entered on October 26, 2009 at No. 639 EDA 2008 Affirming the Adjudication Entered on January 25, 2008 in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Family Division, at Petition No. 0034807-09, J. No. 343916-03.

MR. JUSTICE BAER. CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, STEVENS, JJ. Mr. Chief Justice Castille and Madame Justice Todd join the opinion. Mr. Justice Saylor joins Parts I, II, and III of the majority opinion and concurs in the result with respect to Part IV. Mr. Justice Eakin files a concurring and dissenting opinion. Mr. Justice McCaffery files a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Stevens joins.


Page 1076

[622 Pa. 131] MR. BAER, JUSTICE.

We granted allocatur in this case to decide " whether and when a reviewing court considering a challenge to a pretrial ruling, whether in a post-verdict or appellate context, may look beyond the record of evidence presented at the suppression hearing." In the Interest of: L.J., 606 Pa. 46, 994 A.2d 1080 (Pa. 2010). The Superior Court relied on a footnote from this Court's decision in Commonwealth v. Chacko, 500 Pa. 571, 459 A.2d 311 (Pa. 1983), for the proposition that " it is appropriate to consider all of the testimony, not just the testimony presented at the suppression hearing, in determining whether evidence was properly admitted." Id. at 317-318 n.5 (emphasis in Chacko). The Superior Court, reasoning that it was bound by Chacko, considered evidence adduced for the first time at trial when deciding whether the police properly seized contraband from Appellant, L.J. Specifically, the court affirmed the trial court's denial of suppression because trial testimony established that L.J. voluntarily consented to the search at issue. For the reasons set forth herein, we find the Superior Court's reliance on Chacko to be understandable but ultimately misplaced, vacate the disposition order, and remand this case to the juvenile court for a new suppression hearing in accord with this opinion.


The facts of the case are relatively straightforward. The Commonwealth charged Appellant, a minor, with the delinquent [622 Pa. 132] offenses of possession of a controlled substance and possession with intent to deliver.[1] Appellant filed a motion to suppress. At the suppression hearing, Officer William Hunter testified that at 7:00 p.m. on September 18, 2007, he was conducting a narcotics surveillance of Chris Glover. Glover engaged in a hand-to-hand transaction with one male who left the scene. Alex Turner and Appellant then approached Glover. All three engaged in conversation. Turner gave money to Glover, who then retrieved items from a baggie and handed them to Turner. Turner and Appellant then left the area. Officer Hunter then radioed for backup officers A.C. Frames and Anthony Jackson to stop Turner. Officer Hunter learned that the other officers recovered from Appellant's purse a large ziplock baggie containing a large white chunky substance, which was later determined to contain 29 grams of crack cocaine. After a lengthy conversation among counsel and the court, it became clear that the officer who actually seized the items from Appellant and arrested her was not present for the suppression hearing. Officer Hunter did not witness the seizure of the contraband or Appellant's arrest.

Oral argument on the suppression motion was somewhat haphazard, with two portions of the argument being conducted off the record. Argument initially centered on the extent to which an arresting officer may rely for probable cause on the observations of an officer conducting surveillance. Appellant's counsel also argued that the officers needed a warrant to search Appellant's purse, and that Officer Hunter " does not know exactly where the items were recovered." Notes of Testimony (N.T.), 12/24/07, at 25-26. Appellant's counsel generally argued that the search of Appellant's purse was conducted without a warrant, probable cause, or reasonable suspicion. After additional off-the-record argument, the court denied the motion, reasoning that Officer Hunter's observations of Appellant, Turner, and Glover provided probable cause to search Appellant's purse:

Page 1077

So we're clear on the record, I'm denying this motion because what the police officer [Hunter] saw at the time of [622 Pa. 133] the transaction would certainly suggest to him that both of the people who had a conversation with the buyer or seller were involved in the transaction. And as I understand it, they both had a conversation and the drugs that were passed to Turner by Glover could have been and reasonably would have been transferred to [Appellant], since they approached and conversated [sic] together. And for that reason your motion is denied.

Id. at 28-29.

The case proceeded immediately to an adjudicatory hearing on the charges, with the suppression testimony incorporated into the hearing. The first witness to testify was Officer Jackson.[2] He testified that he was the backup officer to Officer Hunter. Using a radio, Officer Hunter instructed Officer Jackson and his partner, Officer Frames, to stop a male ...

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