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Commonwealth v. Ranson

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

October 8, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
HERBERT RANSON, Appellant

Argued, June 24, 2014

Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County, Criminal Division, No(s): CP-02-CR-0016897-2012. Before MCDANIEL, J.

Daniel J. Eichinger, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Francesco L. Nepa, Assistant District Attorney, Pittsburgh, for Commonwealth, appellee.

BEFORE: BENDER, P.J.E., OLSON and FITZGERALD,[*] JJ. Justice Fitzgerald joins this Opinion. President Judge Emeritus Bender files a Dissenting Opinion.

OPINION

Page 74

OLSON, J.

Appellant, Herbert Ranson, appeals from the judgment of sentence of one to three years' imprisonment, imposed after he was convicted of receiving stolen property[1],

Page 75

person not to possess firearms[2], and firearms not to be carried without a license[3]. The sole issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred in denying Appellant's motion to suppress. After careful consideration, we affirm.

Prior to trial, Appellant filed a motion to suppress evidence. Specifically, Appellant sought to suppress a firearm that was found on his person following Appellant's stop and seizure by three police officers. A hearing was held on Appellant's pretrial suppression motion during which the following facts were adduced.

Detective Tanye Curry testified that he had been a police officer for 18 years and an officer for the City of Pittsburgh for approximately seven years. N.T., 5/16/13, at 3. On December 15, 2012, Detective Curry was working an approved off-duty detail for the City of Pittsburgh at the Serenity Club, an after-hours club located in Zone 5 of the City of Pittsburgh. Id. at 4-5. Detective Curry described the location of the club as a high-crime area. Id. at 5. According to Detective Curry, security was needed at the Serenity Club as there were prior incidents at the club, including fights, shootings and homicides. at 5, 13. The patrons who went to the club included parole and probation violators. Id. at 13. Detective Curry worked the security detail at the Serenity Club for almost four years. Id. On the night in question, the club was letting out at approximately 3:30 a.m. Id. at 14. Detective Curry and two other officers assigned to the security detail stood in different areas around the perimeter of the club " to make sure nothing occur[ed]." Id. at 6. At that time, " a patron of the club stopped [Detective Curry] and told [him] there was a male on the corner with a firearm. The patron went on to give [Detective Curry] a description and said this person was wearing a black hoodie, black jeans, and had a long beard. The patron actually pointed the person out to [Detective Curry] on the corner." Id. Although Detective Curry did not know the informant's name, the Detective saw him on a regular basis as the informant was at the club " every single weekend." Id. at 15. Appellant was the man to whom the informant pointed and, at the time he was pointed out to Detective Curry, Appellant was approximately 75 feet away from where Detective Curry stood. Id. at 7. Appellant was leaning against the corner of a building facing the front entrance of the club. Id. at 18. In light of this information, Detective Curry approached the other two officers and told him what the informant had said. Id. at 16. The three officers, all dressed in full uniform, began to approach Appellant from the side, at which time Appellant put his hands in his hoodie pocket and started to walk away. Id. at 9, 18-19, 20.[4] That is when Appellant was given the command to stop. Id. at 19. Although the officers were all yelling to Appellant to " stop", Appellant looked back at the officers and continued to walk away. Id. at 19-20. At that point, Detective Curry pulled his firearm out and held it at the side of his leg. Id. at 9.[5] Appellant walked approximately

Page 76

50 feet with the officers walking behind him telling him to stop. At this point, Appellant finally stopped and turned toward the officers. Id. at 21-22. Detective Curry ordered Appellant to remove his hands from the pocket of his hoodie sweatshirt at which time Detective Curry could see the imprint of a gun through the black sweatshirt. Id. at 22. Appellant was searched and an operational, .45 caliber Taurus firearm was found in the front pocket of his hoodie sweatshirt.

Following the hearing, the trial court denied the suppression motion. Appellant proceeded to a non-jury trial on July 16, 2013. At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court found him guilty of the above-referenced crimes. He was sentenced on that same day. Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal, as well as a timely concise statement of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). The trial court filed its opinion in accordance with Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a).

Appellant presents the following question for our review:

Did the trial court err in denying [Appellant's] motion to suppress where police lacked reasonable suspicion to believe [Appellant] was engaged in criminal conduct at the time that they stopped him?

Appellant's brief at 4.

Our standard of review in addressing a challenge to the denial of a suppression motion is

limited to determining whether the suppression court's factual findings are supported by the record and whether the legal conclusions drawn from those facts are correct. Because the Commonwealth prevailed before 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 suppression court's factual findings are supported by the record, we are bound by these findings and may reverse only if the court's legal conclusions are erroneous. The suppression court's legal conclusions are not binding on an appellate court, whose ...

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