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Commonwealth v. Manuel

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

April 7, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Appellee
v.
CHARLES HOWARD MANUEL Appellant COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Appellee
v.
TIMOTHY A. MANUEL Appellant

         Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence June 3, 2015 In the Court of Common Pleas of York County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-67-CR-0007220-2014, CP-67-CR-0007222-2014

          BEFORE: LAZARUS, J., STABILE, J., and DUBOW, J.

          OPINION

          LAZARUS, J.

         Charles H. Manuel and Timothy A. Manuel (referred to collectively as "Appellants") appeal from their judgments of sentence entered in the Court of Common Pleas of York County after they were each convicted in a stipulated non-jury trial of one count of possession with intent to manufacture or deliver marijuana ("PWID").[1] The issue presented by this appeal is whether a search warrant in which the reliability of a confidential informant ("CI") and the facts of criminal conduct that the CI provided the police have not been adequately corroborated can supply the basis for either a search or an arrest. Upon careful review, we are constrained to conclude that it cannot and therefore reverse the judgments of sentence.

         On June 16, 2014, Officer Michelle Hoover of the York Area Regional Police Department met with a CI who advised her that, within the prior 72 hours, he[2] had been inside the premises located at 1110 Pleasant Grove Road, Red Lion, York County ("Pleasant Grove Residence"), and had observed marijuana packaged for sale, multiple marijuana plants growing, and marijuana growing accessories. The CI advised Officer Hoover that a white male named Timothy Manuel lived at the residence.

         Based upon the information provided by the CI, as well as her own training and experience, Officer Hoover applied for and received a warrant to search the Pleasant Grove Residence and all persons present. On June 20, 2014, the York County Drug Task Force executed the warrant and found marijuana plants growing in Appellants' bedrooms, as well as drug paraphernalia, cash, and a digital scale. Appellants were arrested and each charged with one count of PWID.

         On January 20, 2015, Appellants filed a joint motion to suppress, arguing that the search warrant obtained by Officer Hoover lacked sufficient probable cause because the police did not perform any investigation to independently corroborate the information provided to them by the CI. A hearing was held on March 23, 2015, and, by order dated March 24, 2015, the trial court denied the suppression motion.

         A stipulated bench trial was held on May 1, 2015, at the conclusion of which Appellants were found guilty of PWID. Appellants were sentenced on June 3, 2015. Charles received a sentence of two years' intermediate punishment, consisting of two months' imprisonment on Outmate status, followed by four months of house arrest and then probation. Timothy was originally sentenced to six to twenty-three months' incarceration; however, after Timothy filed a motion for reconsideration of sentence, the court resentenced him to a twenty-three month term of intermediate punishment, consisting of three months' imprisonment, followed by three months of house arrest and then probation.

         Appellants filed timely notices of appeal, which this Court consolidated. Appellants present the following issue for our review:

Whether the trial court erred in denying the Omnibus Pretrial Motion to Suppress Evidence where the Application for a Search Warrant and attached Affidavit of Probable Cause lacked sufficient probable cause by failing to establish the veracity and reliability of the [CI] and lacked independent police corroboration of criminal activity, in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution?

         Brief of Appellants, at 3.

         We begin by noting our scope and standard of review of an order denying a motion to suppress:

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. Where, as here, the appeal of the determination of the suppression court turns on allegations of legal error, the suppression court's legal conclusions are not binding on an appellate court, whose duty it is to determine if the suppression court properly applied the law to the facts. Thus, the conclusions of law of the courts below are subject to our plenary review.

Commonwealth v. Farnan, 55 A.3d 113, 115 (Pa. Super. 2012), quoting Commonwealth v. McAdoo, 46 A.3d 781, 783-84 (Pa. Super. 2012) (citations omitted).

         Appellants challenge the sufficiency of the information contained in the probable cause affidavit. Specifically, Appellants assert that the reliability of the CI was not established where the CI had previously provided information leading to only one arrest which had not yet, at the time the affidavit was executed, led to a conviction. For the reasons that follow, we are constrained to conclude that the information contained in the affidavit of probable cause was legally insufficient to support the issuance of a search and seizure warrant.

The legal principles applicable to a review of the sufficiency of probable cause affidavits are well settled. Before an issuing authority may issue a constitutionally valid search warrant, he or she must be furnished with information sufficient to persuade a reasonable person that probable cause exists to conduct a search. The standard for evaluating a search warrant is a 'totality of the circumstances' test as set forth in Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983), and adopted in Commonwealth v. Gray, 509 Pa. 476, 503 A.2d 921 (1985).

Commonwealth v. Rapak, 2016 PA Super 94, at *3 (Pa. Super. 2016), quoting Commonwealth v. Ryerson, 817 A.2d 510, 513-14 (Pa.Super.2003) (quotation omitted).

Probable cause does not demand the certainty we associate with formal trials. Rather, a determination of probable cause requires only that the totality of the circumstances demonstrates a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place. Thus, where the evidence available to police consists of an anonymous tip, probable cause may be established upon corroboration of major portions of the information provided by the tip. Similarly, where the evidence consists of the allegations of a police informant who has not previously provided information, probable cause requires only corroboration of principal elements of information not publicly available. As recognized by the [U.S. Supreme] Court in [Illinois v.] Gates, [462 U.S. 213 (1983), ] "[i]t is enough, for purposes of assessing probable cause, that '[c]orroboration through other sources of information reduced the chances of a reckless or prevaricating tale, ' thus providing 'a substantial basis for crediting the hearsay.'"

Commonwealth v. Otterson, 947 A.2d 1239, 1244-45 (Pa. Super. 2008), quoting Commonwealth v. Brown, 924 A.2d 1283, 1286-87 (Pa. Super. 2007) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

         The relevant portion of the Officer Hoover's affidavit of probable cause provided as follows:

On June 16, 2014 I met with a reliable confidential informant who advised they were inside 1110 Pleasant Grove Road, Red Lion, PA 17356 located in Windsor Township of York County within the past 72 hours. While in the residence, the informant stated [he] observed marijuana packaged for sale, multiple marijuana plants growing, and growing accessories such as growing tools, soil, a humidifier and a grow tent. This informant advised a [white male] named Timothy Manuel lives in the residence.
The informant should be considered reliable due to the fact that [he has] provided police with information that has led to a felony drug arrest that is currently pending in the York County Court system. This informant is familiar with what marijuana looks like and how it is packaged in York County.
I ran a check through PENN DOT and observed Timothy Manuel lists the address 1110 Pleasant Grove Road, Red Lion, PA 17356 as his residence. On 6/16/14 I viewed a red Mitsubishi parked in the driveway of 1110 Pleasant Grove Road. The vehicle is registered to Charles Manuel of 1110 Pleasant Grove Road, Red Lion, PA 17356.
Based on the totality of the above circumstances, I know through training and experience that narcotics dealers will commonly use a location such as a dwelling to store or "stash" larger quantities of narcotics, packaging, material, and proceeds in order to protect their product(s) and proceeds and to evade law enforcement. Based on my training and experience, I know that narcotics dealers will commonly keep a portion of their product and weapons on their person. Therefore, I request to search all persons present for officer safety reasons and to protect the destruction of evidence.
I believe that the premise known as 1110 Pleasant Grove Rd. in Windsor Township[ i]s being utilized to grow, store, package, and prepare marijuana for the purpose of street level sales. Therefore, I ask for the issuance of a search and seizure warrant for the ...

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