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Commonwealth v. Johnson

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

February 18, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellant
v.
RICHARD ALLEN JOHNSON, Appellee

Submitted April 25, 2013

Page 183

Appeal from the order of Superior Court entered November 29, 2011 at No. 381 MDA 2011, affirming/vacating and remanding in part the order of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, dated January 24, 2011 at No. CP-40-CR-0000947-2010.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE CASTILLE. MR. CHIEF JUSTICE CASTILLE. CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, STEVENS, JJ. Messrs. Justice Saylor, Eakin and Baer and Madame Justice Todd join the opinion. Mr. Justice McCaffery files a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Stevens joins.

OPINION

Page 184

MR. CASTILLE, CHIEF JUSTICE[*]

This matter turns upon whether the Superior Court erred in affirming the trial court's suppression of physical evidence seized incident to an arrest based on an invalid (expired) arrest warrant, where the police officer reasonably and in good faith believed that the arrest warrant was valid. We hold that the evidence was properly suppressed under Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and this Court's decision in Commonwealth v. Edmunds, 526 Pa. 374, 586 A.2d 887 (Pa. 1991) (rejecting federal good faith exception to exclusionary rule in case involving evidence seized pursuant to defective search warrant). Accordingly, we affirm the Superior Court's order.

On March 8, 2010, appellee Richard Allen Johnson was a passenger in a vehicle in Wilkes-Barre which was stopped by State Trooper James Knott, who had previously received a radio communication that the vehicle in question had been involved in a drug transaction, and who then observed that the vehicle had a broken tail light. Upon requesting identification and processing appellee's name through his patrol car computer, Trooper Knott received a " hit" message advising that there was an active arrest warrant for appellee. Trooper Knott then placed appellee under arrest and conducted a pat-down search during which he discovered thirty-seven packets of suspected heroin, two cell phones and $1674.00 in cash. Trooper Knott placed appellee in the back of a police car and transported him to the police barracks, where he read appellee the Miranda warnings.[1] Appellee made several statements to Trooper Knott. In one statement, appellee indicated that he is a drug dealer and that the driver of the vehicle bought drugs from him. In a later statement, appellee claimed he is a user of drugs, not a seller, and that the cash he carried at the time of the arrest and pat-down search was a tax refund.

Id Commonwealth v.

Page 185

McFeely, 509 Pa. 394, 502 A.2d 167 (Pa. 1985) (listing factors to consider in determining whether connection between confession and warrantless arrest was so attenuated as to dissipate taint of illegal arrest)).

The Commonwealth filed an appeal to the Superior Court, certifying that the suppression court's order terminated or substantially handicapped the prosecution. See Pa.R.A.P. 311(d) (in criminal cases, Commonwealth may take appeal as of right from order that does not end entire case where Commonwealth certifies that order will terminate or substantially handicap prosecution). A Superior Court panel filed a short unpublished memorandum opinion affirming that part of the order which suppressed the physical evidence seized from appellee incident to arrest, but vacating that part of the order which suppressed appellee's statements, and remanding to the trial court for reconsideration of the exclusion of those statements under Commonwealth v. Smith, 606 Pa. 127, 995 A.2d 1143 (Pa. 2010) (not all confessions or admissions secured from illegally arrested persons are per se inadmissible as trial evidence). In affirming the suppression of the physical evidence seized from appellee, the panel relied on a prior Superior Court decision, Commonwealth v. Antoszyk, ...


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