from the Order March 27, 2015 In the Court of Common Pleas of
Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No(s):
BEFORE: BENDER, P.J.E., MOULTON, J., and FITZGERALD,
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania appeals from the March 27, 2015
order entered in the Philadelphia County Court of Common
Pleas granting Angel Ribot's motion in limine to
exclude evidence. We reverse.
26, 2014, Officer Thomas Donahue met with a confidential
informant ("CI") to arrange a controlled buy of
illegal narcotics and gave the CI a $20 bill. Before giving
the bill to the CI, Officer Donahue recorded the bill's
serial number into a computer database, printed out a
time-stamped copy of the computer entry, and circled the
serial number of the bill on the computer printout. Officer
Donahue transported the CI to the 2800 block of North Hope
Street in Philadelphia, where the CI approached Ribot,
engaged him in a brief conversation, and handed him money in
exchange for packets of heroin. The Commonwealth charged
Ribot with possession of a controlled substance with intent
to deliver ("PWID") and possession of a controlled
November 4, 2014, Ribot filed a motion requesting the
production of the pre-recorded buy money used in the July 26,
2014 transaction. On November 6, 2014, the trial court
ordered the Commonwealth to make the $20 bill available to
Ribot for inspection. The Commonwealth did not produce the
$20 bill because the bill had been placed back into
circulation for use in future controlled buys. It did,
however, produce a printout of the time-stamped computer
entry showing that the bill's serial number had been
recorded the day before the controlled buy.
March 26, 2015, Ribot orally moved to preclude the
Commonwealth from introducing into evidence any reference to
the pre-recorded buy money. At the hearing on the motion,
the Commonwealth presented the testimony of [Officer] Donahue
. . . . The officer's testimony [was] as follows: That he
has been a narcotics agent for the past five years, using
[CIs] and pre-recorded buy money on hundreds of occasions.
That he only records serial numbers of the prerecorded buy
money at this juncture and that the former protocol was to
make photocopies of the funds. Officer Donahue also stated on
cross examination that he has photocopied pre-recorded buy
money in the past. Counsel for [Ribot] showed the officer a
written directive to photocopy all pre-recorded serial
numbers of the funds utilized in the investigation. The
officer stated that he believed the directive was changed and
that it was done orally . . . .
Opinion, 1/19/16, at 2 ("1925(a) Op.") (citations
omitted). Officer Donahue testified about his method of
pre-recording the buy money as follows:
Prior to leaving my office every day I receive buy money from
my sergeant whether it's $200, $300, $400 in cash. I have
to go to a computer, we pull up a specific screen, then
document all the serial numbers that are on every $20 bill,
or $10 bill[, ] whatever the denominations happen to be. You
have to document that in the computer. You send it, it
becomes a general [sic] in the police department which means
it can be pulled up at a later time, and then you printout a
copy. You take that copy out with you, circle the specific
serial number that you use for specific jobs and then you use
that pre-recorded buy money to purchase illegal narcotics.
N.T., 3/26/15, at 11-12.
conclusion of the hearing, the trial court granted
Ribot's motion in limine and "precluded the
Commonwealth from mentioning that buy money was exchanged or
recovered from [Ribot]. However, the police officer can
mention that he witnessed an exchange of money between the
[CI] and [Ribot]." 1925(a) Op. at 1; see N.T.,
3/27/15, at 3-4. The trial court further "stated that
the buy money that is in question should have been
photocopied and not just the serial numbers placed into the
computer." 1925(a) Op. at 1; see N.T., 3/27/15,
at 4. The Commonwealth timely appealed to this Court.
appeal, the Commonwealth raises the following issue:
"Did the lower court err in excluding evidence that
money police had pre-recorded for use in the controlled buy
was recovered from [Ribot] following the drug deal, on the
ground that the police had not photocopied the buy
money?" Cmwlth.'s Br. at 4.
review a trial court's decision to grant a motion in
limine for an abuse of discretion. Commonwealth v.
Belani, 101 A.3d 1156, 1160 (Pa.Super. 2014).
"'A trial court has broad discretion to determine
whether evidence is admissible, ' and [its] ruling
regarding the admission of evidence 'will not be
disturbed on appeal unless that ruling reflects manifest
unreasonableness, or partiality, prejudice, bias, or
ill-will, or such lack ...