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Commonwealth v. Turpin

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

September 26, 2019


          ARGUED: May 15, 2019

          Appeal from the Order of Superior Court at No. 1656 MDA 2016 dated February 13, 2018 Affirming the Judgment of Sentence dated May 10, 2016 by the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, at No. CP-21-CR-0000623-2015




         We granted discretionary review to determine whether a search warrant for an entire multi-bedroom residence shared by appellant, Dylan Scott Turpin, and his roommate, Benjamin Kato Irvin, was constitutionally permissible under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution[1] and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution[2] even though the warrant was premised solely on the activity of Irvin. We conclude police had probable cause to search the entire residence and therefore the warrant was constitutionally permissible. Accordingly, we affirm the order of the Superior Court.

         On December 4, 2014, Detective Trenton Mellott of the Cumberland County Drug Task Force began investigating Irvin based on information received from a confidential informant regarding the sale of heroin. Affidavit of Probable Cause 2/19/15 at 1. Detective Mellott contacted Irvin's parole officer who informed him Irvin was residing at 105 E. Green Street in Mechanicsburg, and appellant also seemed to be living at that address. Id. Based on this information, Detective Mellott conducted surveillance of the single family residence located at this address over the next few months and observed an unusually high number of individuals making short visits there. Id. at 2.[3]

         In mid-February 2016, Detective Mellott interviewed a second confidential informant who stated he had been purchasing heroin from Irvin on a regular basis and had bought heroin from Irvin at the Green Street residence. Id. As this information had been corroborated by his surveillance, Detective Mellott arranged for the confidential informant to conduct a controlled buy of heroin from Irvin. Id. While the confidential informant was arranging to meet Irvin at a nearby business, Detective Mellott surveilled the Green Street residence and observed multiple individuals enter and then quickly exit, activity which Detective Mellott believed was indicative of drug dealing. Id. Detective Mellott then observed two people exit the residence and enter a black Cadillac that Irvin was known to drive. Id. at 1-2. Detective Rodney Temple, who was surveilling the location of the controlled buy, observed the same black Cadillac arrive at the buy location. Id. at 2. A male and female then exited the Cadillac, the male conducted a hand-to-hand transaction with an unknown individual, and the male instructed the confidential informant to enter the business. Id. At this time, Detective Christopher Collare entered the business with the confidential informant and positively identified Irvin as the male with whom the confidential informant interacted. Id. The detectives observed Irvin and the unknown female get back into the black Cadillac, drive to the Green Street residence, and enter the house. Id. The confidential informant then provided Detective Mellott with ten blue bags of heroin, stamped "Blue Magic, " purchased from Irvin. Id.; N.T. 3/24/16 at 12.

         Based on the above, Detective Mellott obtained a warrant to search "the residence at 105 E. Green St[, ] . . . a single family townhouse" for heroin, drug paraphernalia, proceeds from illegal drug sales, and cellphones owned or possessed by Irvin. Application for Search Warrant and Authorization 2/19/16 at 1.

         On February 21, 2015, the search warrant was executed and a special response team cleared the building - a two story house containing a living room and kitchen on the first floor and two bedrooms and one bathroom on the second floor - of all individuals, including appellant. N.T. 8/11/15 at 15-16, 18; N.T. 3/23/16 at 24. Appellant was placed into a vehicle by Sergeant Brian Curtis of the Mechanicsburg Police Department and the two discussed the living arrangements at the residence. Id. at 16. Appellant told Sergeant Curtis he and Irvin both lived there, splitting the rent, and each occupying one of the two bedrooms. Id. at 16-17. Thereafter, Sergeant Curtis brought appellant back into the house so he could retrieve shoes from his bedroom, which appellant described as the bedroom on the right. Id. at 17. Sergeant Curtis observed the door to appellant's bedroom was open and unlocked, there was no evidence appellant had ever placed a padlock on the bedroom door, and there was not a room number or mailbox on the outside of the bedroom door. Id. at 22.

         Officers proceeded to search the entire house, including appellant's bedroom. N.T. 3/24/16 at 14-15. Recovered from appellant's bedroom were, inter alia, a Glock firearm, ammunition, six bags of heroin including one blue bag stamped "Blue Magic, " a bag of marijuana, and $902 in cash. Id. at 15, 21-22, 27-28, 56. Police also recovered 37 bags of heroin, some stamped "Blue Magic, " and $1, 000 cash from Irvin's bedroom as well as 200 bags of heroin from the living room. Id. at 15, 18-20, 56. On March 10, 2015, police returned to the Green Street residence and recovered 80 bags of heroin from the second floor bathroom, which was adjacent to appellant's bedroom. Id. at 73-74. Based on the above, appellant was arrested and charged with, inter alia, three counts of possession of a controlled substance, and one count each of conspiracy to commit possession with the intent to deliver and receiving stolen property.[4]

         Prior to trial, appellant filed a motion to suppress claiming, inter alia, the warrant was overbroad because it did not limit the specific areas to be searched to those under the control of Irvin and the warrant was improperly executed because the police were made aware of its overbroad nature from appellant's discussions with Sergeant Curtis. N.T. 8/11/15 at 4. The suppression court held a hearing at which Sergeant Curtis testified as detailed above. Id. at 15-27. In addition to testimony from other police officers, see id. at 5-14, 27-35, 43-48, appellant also testified at the hearing. Id. at 35-42. Relevant to the claim discussed herein, appellant testified he told Sergeant Curtis of the living arrangements at the Green Street residence, he and Irvin occupied separate bedrooms at the residence, he shut his bedroom door when he was not home, and Irvin was not permitted to enter his bedroom without permission. Id. at 35-38.

         The court ultimately denied appellant's motion to suppress. In doing so, the suppression court held the warrant itself was not overbroad, finding "[a] search warrant to a residence need not specify each and every room of a residence to be searched and in fact can authorize a search of an entire residence." Suppression Court Opinion 9/24/15 at 4, citing Commonwealth v. Waltson, 724 A.2d 289, 290 (Pa. 1998) ("where there is probable cause to believe that contraband is located within a particular room of a single unit house, Article [I], Section 8 [of the Pennsylvania Constitution] does not preclude a search of the entire residence"). The court further determined the search warrant was not improperly executed, finding "[t]here was no need for police to distinguish between what rooms were private versus what rooms were public; the warrant authorized a search of the entire residence without distinction." Id.

         Appellant proceeded to a jury trial, after which he was convicted of the aforementioned crimes. The court later sentenced appellant to an aggregate term of one year less one day to two years less two days of county imprisonment to be followed by three years of probation. N.T. 5/10/16 at 4-5.

         On appeal to the Superior Court, appellant renewed his claim the warrant was overbroad and his suppression motion should have been granted. Appellant contended the facts of his case were distinguishable from those in Waltson. Specifically, appellant argued all the areas searched in Waltson were under the control of the resident who was the subject of the search warrant, but in this case the search was expanded into appellant's bedroom, which was a separate living unit solely under the control of a resident who was not the subject of the search warrant. Appellant's Superior Court Brief at 17. The panel rejected this argument, finding Waltson and Commonwealth v. Korn, 139 A.3d 249 (Pa. Super. 2016) - a case with facts analogous to the case at hand - controlled the issue because there was no indication in the record that appellant's bedroom constituted a separate living unit. Commonwealth v. Turpin, 1656 MDA 2016, unpublished memorandum at 9 (Pa. Super. filed Feb. 13, 2018). The panel premised its holding on the facts appellant's bedroom did not have a separate mailbox, address, or private entrance and appellant himself testified he would only shut the bedroom door when he left the residence, rather than lock it. Id.

         We accepted review to address the following question raised by appellant, which was rephrased for purposes of clarity:

Does a search warrant for a multi-bedroom residence shared by adults permit police to search the entire residence and all bedrooms within, where the warrant and affidavit of probable cause are premised on the activity of only one occupant in that multi-occupant residence who does not have complete control over the private bedrooms of his roommates?

Commonwealth v. Turpin, 191 A.3d 1285 (Pa. 2018) (per curiam). Our standard of review over an order denying suppression requires us to "consider only the Commonwealth's evidence and so much of the defense's evidence as remains uncontradicted" when read in the context of the suppression hearing record as a whole. Commonwealth v. Johnson, 160 A.3d 127, 138 (Pa. 2017), cert. denied, 138 S.Ct. 508 (2017) (internal citations omitted); see also In the Interest of L.J., 79 A.3d 1073, 1085 (Pa. 2013). "Where the record supports the suppression court's factual findings, we are bound by those facts and may reverse only if the legal conclusions drawn therefrom are in error." Johnson, 160 A.3d at 138. However, as here, "where the appeal . . . turns on allegations of legal error, the suppression court's conclusions of law are not binding" as it is this Court's duty "to determine if the suppression court properly applied the law to the facts." Commonwealth v. Mistler, 912 A.2d 1265, 1269 (Pa. 2006) (internal brackets, quotations, and citation omitted). Therefore, the legal conclusions of the lower courts are subject to our plenary review. Id.

         Appellant first contends the search warrant was overbroad in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Appellant argues warrants must be limited to areas for which there is probable cause to search and the Fourth Amendment's "'requirement that a specific 'place' be described . . . refers to a single living unit (the residence of one person or family).'" Appellant's Brief at 14, quoting United States v. Hinton, 219 F.2d 324, 326 (7th Cir. 1955) (emphasis added by appellant). Appellant further cites United States v. Diange, 32 F.Supp. 994 (W.D. Pa. 1940), for the proposition that "a search warrant describing the entire dwelling-house will be insufficient where 'each family [is] in possession of a different part of said dwelling-house.'" Appellant's Brief at 14, quoting Diange, 32 F.Supp. at 994. Appellant contends the Green Street residence was neither the residence of one person nor one family and, as such, the warrant for the residence "needed to be limited to the areas within the residence that were under the control of one person or one family." Id. at 17. Since the warrant was not restricted to only the living areas under the control of Irvin, the subject of the warrant, appellant contends the warrant was constitutionally infirm under the Fourth Amendment. Id.

         Appellant additionally contends the warrant was overbroad in violation of Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, as this Court has stated "'a search warrant directed against an apartment house, or other multiple-occupancy structure will be held invalid for lack of specificity if it fails to describe the particular room or subunit to be searched with sufficient definiteness to preclude a search of other units.'" Id. at 17-18, quoting Commonwealth v. Carlisle, 534 A.2d 469, 471 (Pa. 1987) (internal ellipsis omitted, emphasis added by appellant). Appellant recognizes the Waltson Court stated "the search of a single unit house" satisfies the enhanced privacy rights provided by Article I, Section 8. Id. at 18 (emphasis omitted), quoting Waltson, 724 A.2d at 290. However, appellant contends his situation is distinguishable from that of Waltson because the privacy rights of individuals other than the subject of the warrant were implicated; the search here "was not limited to the areas under the control of the resident named in the warrant but overflowed into an area under the control of [appellant], who was not the subject of any investigation[.]" Id. at 19. Appellant further attempts to distinguish his case from Waltson by claiming "the search was not of a single unit house but of a multiple-occupancy structure." Id. (emphasis in original). As a result, appellant contends, "the general requirement announced in Carlisle [and quoted above] pertains[.]" Id.

         Appellant further submits "the police knew, prior to the search, which bedroom was [appellant's] and . . . [could not] reasonably believe that contraband could be found in areas, like [appellant's] bedroom, that were not under the control of [ ] Irvin." Id. at 19-20. Therefore, appellant contends the Commonwealth's argument Irvin could have hidden contraband in appellant's bedroom is speculative at best and, if the search of appellant's bedroom was justified by such speculation, Irvin should have been held criminally liable for any contraband found in appellant's bedroom. Id. at 20-21. With regard to Korn, which appellant recognizes is more akin to his case than Waltson, appellant argues that case was wrongly decided and should be expressly overturned by this Court based on the analysis of the dissent in that case, which would have held "[b]ecause the affidavit . . . only established probable cause as to the areas accessed and controlled by [the subject of the warrant], and because the police were put on notice that there was another bedroom occupied by at least one other person, " the search was overbroad. Id. at 23-24, quoting Korn, 139 A.3d at 261 (Shogan, J., dissenting).

         Finally, appellant provides an analysis under Commonwealth v. Edmunds, 586 A.2d 887 (Pa. 1991), in which he argues Article I, Section 8 provides distinct and greater protections than those conferred by the Fourth Amendment. Appellant's Brief at 24-35. Appellant relies on decisions from this Court which have stated the text of Article I, Section 8 provides more stringent particularity requirements for obtaining a warrant than those found in the Fourth Amendment. Id. at 26-28, citing Commonwealth v. Grossman, 555 A.2d 896, 899 (Pa. 1989). Appellant also cites decisions from other states which have held searches of multi-resident homes must be narrowly tailored to rooms under the control of the subject of the warrant. Id. at 29-31, citing State v. Fleming, 790 N.W.2d 560 (Iowa 2010) (single family residence) and People v. Avery, 478 P.2d 310 (Colo. 1970) (rooming house). With regard to policy concerns, appellant contends "if the search of [his] bedroom is permitted to stand, the right to privacy . . . will protect only those who can afford to live alone." Id. at 32.[5]

         The Commonwealth responds by arguing the federal courts have held that, under the Fourth Amendment, "[a] search warrant for the entire premises of a single family residence is valid, notwithstanding the fact that it was issued based on information regarding the alleged illegal activities of one of several occupants of a residence." Commonwealth's Brief at 11, quoting United States v. Ayers, 924 F.2d 1468, 1480 (9th Cir. 1991) and citing United States v. McLellan, 792 F.3d 200, 212 (1st Cir. 2015) (warrant for single family residence authorizes search of entire dwelling). To further illustrate this point, the Commonwealth also discusses United States v. Kyles, 40 F.3d 519 (2d Cir. 1994), which held "despite the multi-occupant nature of the premises, there was no reason to believe that [the locked] bedroom was a separate residence" as it "'ha[d] neither its own access from the outside, its own doorbell, nor its own mailbox'" and further, "the officer's awareness that [only one individual] could access the bedroom when locked, 'did not, by itself, elevate the bedroom to the status of a separate residential unit.'" Commonwealth's Brief at 13-14, quoting Kyles, 40 F.3d at 524. The Commonwealth additionally argues Hinton and Diange, which are relied upon by appellant, are inapposite; the warrants in those cases were held to be overbroad "not because they were single-family residences occupied by roommates, but because the residences listed on the respective search warrants were comprised of multiple, individual apartments or units." Id. at 14-16, citing Hinton, 219 F.2d at 325 and Diange, 32 F.Supp. at 994.

         Based on the above cases, the Commonwealth maintains "a multi-occupant dwelling is not synonymous with [a] multi-unit dwelling for Fourth Amendment [p]urposes. Rather, to qualify as a multi-unit dwelling requiring a separate search warrant, there must be some indicia that the residence is divided into separate and substantially independent living units." Id. at 16. Therefore, the Commonwealth argues "[t]he mere fact that [appellant] has his own, private bedroom does not transform the single family townhouse into a multi-unit dwelling, thus, there was probable cause to search the [Green Street residence], and the search warrant was sufficiently particular." Id. at 17-18.

         With regard to Article I, Section 8, the Commonwealth preliminarily concedes "'[t]he text of Article I, Section 8 . . . has been interpreted as requiring more specificity in the description of items to be seized than the federal particularity requirement." Id. at 18, quoting Waltson, 724 A.2d at 291. Notwithstanding that fact, however, the Commonwealth contends "it has been unequivocally recognized that when officers have probable cause to search one room in a single living unit, a search of the entire residence is not overbroad" under Article I, Section 8, id. at 20, citing Waltson and Korn, and "[t]o conclude that a bedroom constitutes a separate living unit within a single residence apartment would essentially abandon the practical common sense approach this Honorable Court has previously directed be taken in determining whether the place to be searched is specified with sufficient particularity." Id. at 21 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         In support of this argument, the Commonwealth points out appellant's "[bed]room did not have a separate address, a door leading directly outside, a separate mailbox, or a lock. Thus, [appellant's] bedroom is not so separate from the rest of the residence that it constitutes an individual residence itself." Id. at 22. The Commonwealth additionally argues the quote from Carlisle relied upon by appellant was taken out of context because "[d]espite the mention of 'room, ' the search warrant in Carlisle was deemed to describe the place to be searched with sufficient particularity even though the affidavit that accompanied the warrant designated only the specific apartment to be searched." Id. at 22 (emphasis in original), citing Carlisle, 534 A.2d at 471. Accordingly, the Commonwealth contends ...

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