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Commonwealth v. Young

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

May 11, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellant
v.
EDWARD YOUNG, Appellee

         Appeal from the Order January 14, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-51-CR-0010477-2015

          BEFORE: BOWES, J., DUBOW, J., and FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E.

          OPINION

          DUBOW, J.

         The 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.

         On 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 Philadelphia.[1]

         Appellee 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 record omitted).

         At the close of the hearing, the trial court granted Appellee's Motion to Suppress.

         The Commonwealth filed a timely Notice of Appeal. Both the Commonwealth and the trial court ...


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