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Commonwealth v. Singleton

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

August 17, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
ASHANTEE SINGLETON, Appellant

         Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence July 17, 2015 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-51-CR-0014083-2013

          BEFORE: OTT, J., DUBOW, J., and STEVENS, P.J.E. [*]

          OPINION

          STEVENS, P.J.E.

         Appellant Ashantee Singleton appeals the judgment of sentence entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County after Appellant pled guilty to possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance (PWID). Appellant argues that the trial court erred in denying his suppression motion. We affirm.

         On September 19, 2013, at approximately 12:25 a.m., Philadelphia Police Officers Laseter and Corn were patrolling the area of 1500 Arott Street in Philadelphia, which is near a major train terminal and is known for a high level of narcotic activity. Officer Laseter was also aware that there had been several armed robberies in this area.

         While on patrol, the officers noticed Appellant, who was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, had his hand in the pocket and appeared to be carrying a heavy object in that pocket. Out of concern that Appellant had a weapon, the officers approached Appellant, who had sat down on a ledge. After Appellant observed the officers coming toward him, he pulled a black bag from his sweatshirt and placed it behind him. The bag appeared to contain a heavy object that the officers believed was a weapon.

         When the officers asked Appellant about the contents of the bag, he gave no response and simply stared at them. Although Appellant refused to speak with the officers, Officer Laseter was able to look behind Appellant and see through the side of the bag that it contained jars with red syrup. Officer Laseter immediately recognized that the use of small, non-prescription jars was a common narcotics packaging of codeine syrup. The officers arrested Appellant for suspicion of PWID. Upon a search incident to arrest, the officers discovered Appellant was in possession of thirty-six bags of heroin and twenty-nine bags of marijuana.

         After Appellant was charged with PWID, he filed a suppression motion, which the trial court subsequently denied. On February 19, 2015, Appellant entered a negotiated guilty plea in which he sought to reserve the right to challenge the trial court's denial of his suppression motion. The trial court accepted this conditional plea. On July 17, 2015, the trial court sentenced Appellant to 11½ to 23 months' incarceration to be followed by five years' probation. Appellant filed this timely appeal and complied with the trial court's direction to file a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 1925(b).

         In his appeal, Appellant claims the trial court erred in denying his suppression motion. As noted above, Appellant attempted to enter a conditional plea agreement in reserving the right to appeal the suppression order. However, it is well-established that "[a] plea of guilty constitutes a waiver of all nonjurisdictional defects and defenses" and "waives the right to challenge anything but the legality of [the] sentence and the validity of [the] plea." Commonwealth v. Andrews, 158 A.3d 1260, 1265 (Pa.Super. 2017) (quoting Commonwealth v. Jones, 593 Pa. 295, 929 A.2d 205, 212 (2007) (citation omitted)).

         While our courts have not specifically addressed the validity of conditional plea agreements, our courts have proceeded to review the merits of issues specifically reserved in plea agreements. See Commonwealth v. Cotto, 562 Pa. 32, 753 A.2d 217 (2000) (providing review of the appellant's challenges to the constitutionality of the Juvenile Act, issues which the appellant sought to reserve the right to appeal in his plea agreement); Commonwealth v. Zelasny, 635 A.2d 630 (Pa.Super. 1993) (reaching the merits of the appellant's suppression challenge which he sought to preserve in a conditional plea agreement). See also Commonwealth v. Terreforte, 526 Pa. 448, 587 A.2d 309 (1991) (per curiam order) (remanding for the Superior Court to review the appellant's Rule 1100 claim after the appellant claimed that counsel was ineffective for informing him that he could reserve this issue for appeal in his plea agreement); Commonwealth v. Thomas, 506 A.2d 420 (Pa.Super. 1986) (allowing the appellant to withdraw his nolo contendere plea due to his plea counsel's misconception that the appellant could condition his plea upon the reservation of his right to appeal the denial of his pretrial motions). Moreover, in this case, it does not appear that the Commonwealth objected to the propriety of this appeal.

         As a result, we will reach the merits of Appellant's suppression issue, as the trial court accepted Appellant's conditional agreement reserving the right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion. When reviewing a trial court's denial of a suppression motion, our standard of review is as follows:

our standard of review in addressing a challenge to a trial court's denial of a suppression motion is limited to determining whether the factual findings are supported by the record and whether the legal conclusions drawn from those facts are correct. [Commonwealth v.] Woodard, [634 Pa. 162');">634 Pa. 162, ] 129 A.3d [480, ] 498 [(2015)]. We are bound by the suppression court's factual findings so long as they are supported by the record; our standard of review on questions of law is de novo. Commonwealth v. Galvin, 603 Pa. 625, 985 A.2d 783, 795 (2009). Where, as here, the defendant is appealing the ruling of the suppression court, we may consider only the evidence of the Commonwealth and so much of the evidence for the defense as remains uncontradicted. [Commonwealth v.] Poplawski, [634 Pa. 517');">634 Pa. 517, ] 130 A.3d [697, ] 711 [(2015)]. Our scope of review of suppression rulings includes only the suppression hearing record and excludes evidence elicited at trial. In the Interest of L.J., 622 Pa. 126, 79 A.3d 1073, 1085 (2013).

Commonwealth v. Yandamuri, ___ Pa. ___, 159 A.3d 503, 516 (2017).

         The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution protect individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Commonwealth v. Lyles, 626 Pa. 343, 350, 97 A.3d 298, 302 (2014). Search and seizure jurisprudence defines three levels of interaction between citizens and police officers and requires different levels of justification ...


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