from the Order September 7, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas
of Mercer County Criminal Division at No(s):
BEFORE: PANELLA, STABILE, JJ., and STEVENS, P.J.E.
the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, appeals from the September
7, 2016, order granting the suppression motion filed by
Appellee, Dawna J. Runyan. Following our careful review of the
record and the law, we reverse and remand.
was charged with three counts of possession of drug
paraphernalia, 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(32), and with the
assistance of counsel, she filed an omnibus pre-trial motion
seeking to suppress physical evidence seized by the police.
On September 7, 2016, the matter proceeded to a suppression
hearing, at which the sole testifying witness was Police
Officer Erick A. Gatewood on behalf of the Commonwealth.
Officer Gatewood testified that he has been an officer with
the Farrell Police Department since January of 2016, and
prior to that, he was an officer with the Southwest Regional
Police Department for nine years. N.T., 9/7/16, at 3-4.
Officer Gatewood has experience, in addition to his normal
duties, with the Mercer County Drug Task Force and the
Community Emergency Response Team. Id. at 4.
August 27, 2015, Officer Gatewood, who was on patrol with
Officer Douglas Farley, was in full uniform and driving a
marked cruiser. Id. At approximately 12:32 a.m., the
officers were patrolling in the area of a local bar,
Razzcal's, which is located in a high crime area, known
for gang violence, drug violence, and drug sales.
Id. at 4-5. Officer Gatewood testified that, on many
occasions, the police have arrested drug users and sellers in
occupied vehicles parked around Razzcal's. Id.
Gatewood observed a sedan parked on the west side of the
building that had four occupants in it. Id. Officer
Gatewood and his partner parked behind Razzcal's, on the
southwest side of the building, and walked up to the occupied
vehicle to "check out...what was going on[.]"
Id. Officer Gatewood approached on the
passenger's side of the vehicle, while Officer Farley
approached on the driver's side of the vehicle.
Id. Neither officer approached with their weapons
drawn, although Officer Gatewood was using his flashlight
since it was dark. Id.
Gatewood saw a female, later identified as Kayla Fair,
sitting in the driver's seat, and a male, later
identified as James West, sitting in the front passenger
seat. Id. at 6. A female, later identified as
Appellee, was sitting in the back passenger seat on the
driver's side, while another female, later identified as
Rosemary Funk, was sitting in the back passenger seat on the
passenger side. Id. at 6, 8.
Officer Gatewood approached the vehicle he "detected the
odor of burnt marijuana coming from the area around the
vehicle." Id. at 6. In response, Officer
Gatewood "walked up to the passenger side and [ ] looked
into the vehicle[.] [He] observed a small bag of what
appeared to be marijuana on the back seat passenger side
floor." Id. Officer Gatewood testified that he
has "dealt with marijuana regularly since [he has] been
a patrol officer for ten years. [He] couldn't even
imagine how many times [he has] dealt with it or recovered it
or seized it." Id. at 7.
officers brought the existence of the baggie of marijuana
"to the attention of the occupants." Id.
In response, the driver "tried crawling into the back
seat, between the seats, . . .and then she tried to exit the
vehicle." Id. Officer Gatewood indicated that
the other occupants did not make any kind of movement.
point, "[b]ecause of the driver['s] reaction and the
possibility of marijuana being in the car, " the
officers asked the occupants to exit the vehicle.
Id. The officers handcuffed each occupant and
detained them behind the vehicle. Id. Officer
Gatewood testified that he then searched the vehicle.
Specifically, he testified as follows:
[ADA]: And then what did you do?
[Officer Gatewood]: Because I seen [sic] the
marijuana in the vehicle, I searched the vehicle.
[ADA]: And what was the result of your search?
[Officer Gatewood]: I recovered the baggie of marijuana, the
suspected marijuana, and then there were several purses in
the vehicle, which I removed and I searched them.
[ADA]: And did you find out whose purses belonged to who? How
did that happen?
[Officer Gatewood]: I searched the one purse, which was
[Officer Gatewood]: And I found a spoon and a syringe and a