from the Order January 14, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas
of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No(s):
BEFORE: BOWES, J., DUBOW, J., and FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E.
Commonwealth appeals from the January 14, 2016 Order entered
in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas granting the
Motion to Suppress filed by Appellee, Edward Young. After
careful review, we conclude that the trial court erred as a
matter of law when it concluded that police officers lacked
reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory detention of
Appellee because: (i) Appellee and three officers were
engaged in a mere encounter when Appellee volunteered that he
had marijuana on his person and began reaching for his
pocket; and (ii) as soon as Appellee admitted to being in
possession of marijuana, officers had probable cause to
arrest Appellee and to search him incident to that arrest.
Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's Order and
remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.
October 2, 2015, Appellee was arrested and charged with
Carrying a Firearm Without a License, Possession of
Marijuana, and Carrying a Firearm on Public Streets in
filed a Motion to Suppress, arguing that he had been subject
to an illegal detention and arrest. On January 14, 2016, the
trial court heard testimony on the Motion to Suppress. In its
Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) Opinion, the trial court detailed the
often-repetitive testimony adduced at the hearing. The
portions relevant to our disposition are as follows:
Philadelphia Police Officer, Antonio Nieves, assigned to the
39th District, testified that on October 2, 2015, at
approximately 9:00 p.m., he performed his tour of duty at
1413 West Erie Avenue in the city of Philadelphia. Officer
Nieves stated that he, along with his partners, Officers
Bradley and Mertha, were patrolling this location because
1413 Erie Avenue is a known location for narcotics sales. He
further noted that he receives constant complaints for
narcotics sales and has made numerous arrests at the
location. It was at this location that Officer Nieves, while
driving in a patrol car, first came into contact with
[Appellee]. He observed [Appellee] standing in front of a
Chinese store in the rain at 1413 Erie Avenue from his
vehicle and identified [Appellee] in court. Officer Nieves
testified that he was patrolling the area and looking at the
front of the store to see who was there. After Officer Nieves
drove by a few times, he noticed [Appellee] was still
standing in the rain.
Approximately an hour passed before Officer Nieves and his
two partners returned, got out of the unmarked patrol car,
and identified themselves as police officers to [Appellee]
since they were not wearing their uniforms. After Officer
Nieves approached [Appellee], he asked him what he was doing.
[Appellee] replied that he was waiting for a bus. Officer
Nieves stated to the court that he saw buses come and leave
at this location when he went by a few times. Officer Nieves
then asked [Appellee] if he had anything on his person that
could harm himself or his partners. [Appellee] responded by
saying, "No.... All I have is two bags of weed."
Subsequent to asking [Appellee] what he was doing there,
Officer Nieves asked if he had anything on his person that
could hurt Officer Nieves or his partners. Officer Nieves
explained that he asked this question for officer safety.
[Appellee] then responded by saying that he had two bags of
weed and then started to reach for his pocket. Officer Nieves
testified that he then told [Appellee] not to reach towards
his pocket and proceeded to reach into [Appellee's]
pocket himself. When Officer Nieves reached into
[Appellee's] right coat pocket to retrieve the marijuana,
he recovered a black Ruger .380 handgun, with a serial number
37332000. Officer Nieves stated that the handgun was loaded
with six live rounds in the magazine and one round in the
chamber and later placed on Property Receipt No. 3222254. He
noted that the handgun was recovered from the pocket
[Appellee] attempted to reach towards.
Officer Nieves testified that after he recovered the handgun,
he observed Officer Mertha reach into the Defendant's
pants pocket in his presence and recover marijuana. The
recovered marijuana was later placed on Property Receipt No.
3222255. Officer Nieves stated that he has made over ten (10)
arrests in the West Erie Avenue area including a firearms
arrest around the corner on Broad Street months apart from
the instant matter. Officer Nieves described the area as one
with "a lot of narcotics sales going on. It is very
violent in that area and there have been numerous shootings
and homicides in that general area."
Trial Court Opinion, filed 6/21/16, at 1-3 (references to the
close of the hearing, the trial court granted Appellee's
Motion to Suppress.
Commonwealth filed a timely Notice of Appeal. Both the
Commonwealth and the trial court ...