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[U] Commonwealth v. Burgos

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 7, 2014



Appeal from the Order Entered April 11, 2013, In the Court of Common Pleas of York County, Criminal Division, at No. CP-67-CR-0005310-2012.




Appellant, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ("the Commonwealth"), appeals from the order entered on April 11, 2013, granting the suppression motion filed by Appellee, Luis Antonio Burgos. We affirm.

The record reflects that in May of 2012, York City Police Detective Scott Nadzom was investigating Appellee after confidential informants allegedly told the detective that Appellee was selling marijuana. N.T., Suppression Hearing, 2/15/13, at 5-6. Detective Nadzom testified that he was familiar with Appellee and had spoken with him many times. Id. at 5. Detective Nadzom stated that Appellee had also assisted him in other investigations. Id. 8. The informants allegedly told the detective that Appellee was armed and selling marijuana out of a dark colored Acura. Id. at 7-8. Detective Nadzom testified that he knew that Appellee had an outstanding parole warrant for arrest. Id. at 6.

On May 31, 2012, Detective Nadzom used a confidential informant to arrange a purchase of marijuana from Appellee. Suppression Hearing, 2/15/13, at 8. While the detective had the confidential informant arrange the drug purchase, Detective Nadzom and other assisting officers never intended to complete the transaction. Id. at 8. Rather, their intent was to arrest Appellee on the open warrant and seize the Acura. Id. at 7-8. The officers never obtained a warrant for the car. At the time of the arranged drug buy, Detective Nadzom looked on as Appellee stood outside a building at 133 North Queen Street. Id. at 6. Detective Nadzom watched Appellee for ten to fifteen minutes. Id. During that time, an unidentified black male approached Appellee. Id. at 7. Appellee entered a breezeway next to 133 North Queen Street, and when he returned, he allegedly engaged in a hand-to-hand transaction with the unidentified man. Id. At that point, Detective Nadzom had back-up units arrest Appellee who was standing on the street with other individuals. Id. at 7. The detective and other officers moved in and arrested Appellee. Id. at 19. Detective Andrew Shaffer was one of those assisting in the arrest. Id. Detective Shaffer testified that after Appellee was in custody, he instructed officers to secure Appellee's Acura, which was parked behind the building. Id. Detective Shaffer testified that he had the Acura moved to the Drug Task Force office because the location where it was parked was a high crime area and people in that area did not like the police. Id. at 20. Officer Pelton used car keys seized from Appellee to drive the car to the Drug Task Force parking lot. Id. at 30. While the car was being driven back to the Drug Task Force Office, Appellee was secured in the back of a police car. Id. After the Appellee was arrested, placed in the back of the police vehicle, and his car impounded, he told Officer Wentz that they would find a gun and marijuana when they searched in the car. Id. at 40. When the car was eventually searched, the officers uncovered a gun, marijuana, a scale, and baggies. Id. at 23. Appellee was then charged with one count of persons not to possess a firearm and one count of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance. Complaint, 6/1/12. On January 31, 2013, Appellee filed a motion to suppress, and on April 11, 2013, the suppression court granted Appellee's motion. The Commonwealth timely appealed.[1]

On appeal, the Commonwealth raises the following issues for this Court's consideration:

I. Whether police officers acted lawfully in seizing defendant's vehicle where they possessed probable cause to believe that the vehicle had been used by the defendant to store and transport illegal drugs?
II. Whether any constitutional taint caused by the police seizure of defendant's vehicle was removed because defendant's spontaneous utterance that drugs and a gun were in his vehicle meant the evidence would have inevitably been discovered by the police?

Commonwealth's Brief at 4 (full capitalization omitted).

When the Commonwealth appeals from a suppression order, this Court may consider only the evidence from the defendant's witnesses together with the evidence of the prosecution that, when read in the context of the record as a whole, remains uncontradicted. Whitlock, 69 A.3d at 637 (citation omitted). In our review, we are not bound by the suppression court's conclusions of law, and we must determine if the suppression court properly applied the law to the facts. Id. We defer to the suppression court's findings of fact, because, as the finder of fact, it is the suppression court's prerogative to pass on the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be given to their testimony. Id. (citing Commonwealth v. Baker, 946 A.2d 691, 693 (Pa.Super. 2008)).

Upon review of the issues raised, the certified record, the Commonwealth's brief, [2] and the applicable legal authority, we conclude that the thorough opinion of the suppression court entered on June 20, 2013 comprehensively and correctly disposes of the Commonwealth's appeal. Accordingly, we affirm the order granting the motion to suppress, and we do so based on the suppression court's opinion. See Suppression Court Opinion, 6/20/13.[3] The ...

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