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[U] Commonwealth v. Neff

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

March 4, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
DAVID M. NEFF, JR., Appellant

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of May 13, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Carbon County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-13-CR-0000920-2011

BEFORE: GANTMAN, P.J., OLSON and PLATT, [*] JJ.

MEMORANDUM

OLSON, J.

Appellant, David M. Neff, Jr., appeals from the judgment of sentence entered on May 13, 2013. We affirm.

The trial court accurately summarized the factual background of this case as follows:

On October 30, 2011, at approximately [ ]7:00 p.m.[], Officer Justin M. Sannie [] of the Jim Thorpe Borough Police Department received a call from Officer Dan Long indicating that a female may be in distress in the vicinity of Mauch Chunk Lake Park. Officer Long had previously observed two individuals walking along the breast of the dam near the park and had heard a female voice yell for help. Officer Sannie went to the park to assist in the search for the individuals.
The search was unsuccessful and the officers determined that the last known location of the individuals was on the trail that leads to Flagstaff Road. Officer Sannie headed towards the Flagstaff Road area to continue searching for the individuals. At that time, he had been employed by the Jim Thorpe Borough Police Department for over two [] years and was very familiar with the Flagstaff Road location. He stated that it is common for people to park their vehicles along Flagstaff Road to access the trail that runs along the dam. Officer Sannie wanted to check for anyone in that area who may have had information concerning the incident or may have seen the individuals.
Upon arriving at Flagstaff Road, Officer Sannie observed a vehicle traveling at a very low rate of speed. It was the only vehicle in the area at that time. The vehicle was driving towards him in the opposite lane and subsequently passed his police cruiser. Officer Sannie observed two [] female occupants in the vehicle, one [] in the front passenger's seat and one [] in the driver's seat, and a male passenger in the back seat. Officer Sannie observed the female driver look in his direction for a prolonged period of time. She continued to look in Officer Sannie's direction after passing the police cruiser and then abruptly stopped her vehicle, without any prompting from the officer. Officer Sannie then activated his overhead emergency lights and exited the police cruiser to speak with the occupants of the vehicle.
Officer Sannie testified that his actions were based on the circumstances at the time. He had knowledge that people generally parked their vehicles along Flagstaff Road to access the trail. When he arrived in the area there were no other vehicles present, the subject vehicle was traveling at a very, very low rate of speed, the driver looked at the officer for a prolonged period of time, and continued to do so after the officer had passed her vehicle and the vehicle then abruptly came to a stop. Officer Sannie approached the vehicle to check on the safety of the occupants and inquire as to whether they had any information concerning the incident at Mauch Chunk Lake Park. Due to the very slow rate of speed of the vehicle and its complete stop on the roadway, he thought it was possible that they may have been in distress. As Officer Sannie testified at trial, at th[at] time, [he] was not sure of what the circumstances were inside the vehicle.
Officer Sannie approached the vehicle and asked the occupants basic questions. He asked them if everything was okay and whether they had seen anything regarding a girl who had yelled for help. While questioning the occupants of the vehicle, Officer Sannie recognized the two [] female occupants from previous encounters and knew that they were under [ ]21[] years of age.
He observed a clear liquor bottle on the floor behind the driver's seat in the rear of the vehicle. Officer Sannie asked the male occupant, who was later identified as [Appellant], about the bottle. [Appellant] handed him a bottle of Smirnoff vodka. As [Appellant] was handing the vodka bottle to Officer Sannie, a pocket knife fell out of his left jacket pocket. [Appellant] quickly grabbed the knife and put it back in his pocket. For officer safety reasons, [Appellant] was then asked to exit the vehicle. As [Appellant] was exiting the vehicle, Officer Sannie observed [Appellant] place a small bag containing green leafy vegetable substances on the back seat. When the officer asked what was contained in the bag, [Appellant] responded that it was dirt marijuana. [Appellant also had a box of cigars or blunts on his person. Officer Sannie testified that the blunts are used to smoke marijuana.]

Trial Court Opinion, 9/5/13, at 2-5 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

The procedural history of this case is as follows. A three-count information was filed on December 23, 2011 charging Appellant with possession of marijuana, [1] possession of drug paraphernalia, [2] and false identification to law enforcement.[3] Appellant filed his omnibus pre-trial motion on March 16, 2012. An evidentiary hearing was held on April 30, 2012. On June 21, 2012, the trial court granted Appellant's request to dismiss the false identification to law ...


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