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Commonwealth v. Forsythe

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

June 1, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Appellant
v.
TERENCE DWIGHT FORSYTHE Appellee

         Appeal from the Order Entered March 1, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-41-CR-0001235-2015

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

          OPINION

          LAZARUS, J.

         The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ("Commonwealth") appeals from the order, entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County, granting Terence Dwight Forsythe's motion to suppress.[1] After careful review, we reverse.

         The Trial Court summarized the facts as follows:

         I. Background

         A. Detective Al Diaz's Testimony

Detective Al Diaz (Diaz) was a Lycoming County detective for seven years. He was the coordinator of the Lycoming County Narcotics Enforcement Unit (NEU). The NEU's function is to arrest people for drug violations in Lycoming County. There are full-time and part-time members of the unit. Part-time members help when the NEU requests. Municipal police officers are part-time members of the NEU. Each police officer submits an application to the NEU. Each application is signed by the chief of police in the officer's jurisdiction. Municipal police officers are paid by their municipalities for their work in the NEU. The municipalities are reimbursed by the District Attorney's Office, who receives money from the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office.
The NEU conducts interdiction roving patrols. An interdiction roving patrol is when law enforcement officers patrol areas where there is drug activity and attempt to stem the flow of drugs. "All those assigned [to a patrol] drive around looking for narcotics activity." If a police officer wants to stop a vehicle while on patrol, he or she has the authority to stop the vehicle. Diaz tells the patrolling officers to do their jobs. The NEU conducts interdiction patrols because there is "a really terrible drug problem in the county."
On June 3, 2015, the NEU conducted an interdiction roving patrol. In order to conduct the patrol, Diaz requested the aid of law enforcement officers in other departments. Sergeant Chris Kriner (Kriner) of the Old Lycoming Township Police Department was among those requested to aid in the patrol, which was set up by Detective Michael Simpler of the Lycoming County District Attorney's Office. The patrol included individuals from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Williamsport Bureau of Police, the Old Lycoming Township Police Department, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, and the Lycoming County Probation Office. The officers were briefed before participating in the roving patrol. They were instructed to target certain areas. During briefings, Diaz sometimes gives the officers specific individuals to target, but he did not mention the Defendant or Cody Yearick (Yearick) during the June 3, 2015 briefing. After the June 3 briefing, "everyone went out to conduct investigations."

         B. Sergeant Chris Kriner's Testimony

Sergeant Kriner has been a police officer with the Old Lycoming Township Police Department for 15 years. He has been a member of the NEU since 2001, and he has about 15 years of experience in conducting drug investigations. He assists members of the NEU in conducting drug investigations.
The NEU requested Kriner's assistance with a roving drug interdiction patrol that it was planning for on June 3, 2015. He was assigned to the patrol "through the Old Lycoming Township Police Department." He was "made aware" of the date and time of the patrol and the location of the briefing. The briefing was held on June 3, 2015 at approximately 3:00 p.m. in the conference room of the Old Lycoming Township Police Department, and the briefing lasted 30 to 45 minutes. Kriner was not given any specific information about the Defendant or Yearick during the briefing.
Kriner "went out" immediately after the briefing. He was in full uniform in an unmarked police vehicle with Chief William Solomon (Solomon) of the Old Lycoming Township Police Deparment. As part of the interdiction, Kriner is given general police powers throughout Lycoming County. He was patrolling the Interstate 180 corridor, and he was looking for indications of drug use, buying, and dealing. Kriner's duties took him outside of his jurisdiction.
Shortly before 8:00 p.m. on June 3, 2015, Kriner was patrolling the area of the Weis Market on West Third Street in Williamsport. This area is not in the Old Lycoming Township Police Department's jurisdiction. Rather, it is in the jurisdiction of the Williamsport Bureau of Police. Based on the police reports and interviews with criminal defendants, Kriner believes the area is a high-crime area. He has received complaints of drug use and drug trafficking in the area. He has also made arrests for drug trafficking in the area.
As Kriner was driving through the Weis Market's parking lot, he saw a green Chevy Blazer parked in the lot. Two men quickly exited the vehicle and went into the store. Kriner checked for information on the vehicle and learned that it was registered to an individual with an address in Mifflinburg, Union County. From his training and experience, Kriner knows that a lot of drug users go to Williamsport to purchase drugs. While the men were in the store, Kriner observed that the vehicle's windows were down, its keys were in the ignition, and cell phones were inside the vehicle. The men exited the store several minutes after they entered. They were looking around, and Kriner believed that they were looking for him and Solomon.
One man sat in the Blazer's driver seat; the other man sat in the passenger seat. When the vehicle exited the parking lot, Kriner began to follow it. Kriner thought it was "probable that [the men] may have been involved in drug activity." At the intersection of Market Street and West Third Street in Williamsport, it was apparent that the Blazer's license plate light was out. Kriner does not remember if the police car's headlights were on.
The Blazer did not enter Route 15 South towards Union County. Instead, it proceeded east on Interstate 180. Kriner followed the vehicle into Loyalsock Township, which is not in Old Lycoming Township Police Department's jurisdiction. Kriner stopped the vehicle because the registration plate light was not operating. After the vehicle stopped, Kriner saw the passenger move around and twist his body. Kriner talked with the vehicle's passenger, who was the Defendant. Solomon talked with the driver, who was Yearick. After talking with the Defendant, Kriner talked with Yearick. Based on the interviews of the Defendant and Yearick, ...

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