Investigatory Detention; Probable Cause
Commonwealth v. Adams, 2017 WL 2424726 (Pa. Super. 2017)(unreported), allocatur granted Feb. 12, 2018, appeal docket 6 WAP 2018 (majority)(concurring)
Edward Thomas Adams was sentenced to a period of six months’ probation following a non-jury trial for driving under the influence (DUI). The court summarized the facts leading up to his arrest as follows:
Briefly, on January 10, 2016, at approximately 2:56 a.m., Officer Falconio observed a white Dodge Dart pulling into the parking area of a shopping plaza, which included a shop owned by Appellant. All shops in the plaza were closed. After the vehicle did not leave the parking lot, Officer Falconio pulled behind the car in the lot. Officer Falconio did not activate his lights or sirens, proceeded to call for backup, approached the vehicle, and knocked on the driver’s window. Appellant was behind the wheel of the vehicle; however, the engine and lights were off.
Appellant attempted to exit the vehicle rather than lower the window; however, Officer Falconio closed the door and requested he open the window until backup arrives. Appellant stated he could not do so because he did not have the keys; however, the keys were visible in the rear of the vehicle. After backup arrived, Officer Falconio opened the door and spoke to Appellant. At this time Officer Falconio noticed Appellant exhibited a strong odor of alcohol, bloodshot and glassy eyes, and was slurring his speech. After directing Appellant through field sobriety tests, Officer Falconio arrested Appellant for DUI.
Slip Op. at 1-2.
On appeal, Adams asked the Superior Court to consider the following issue:
Whether the trial court erred in denying Appellant’s motion to suppress when he was detained for pulling into his own business, when such was closed, and thus the stop and subsequent detention was not supported by probable cause or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
The Superior Court rejected Adams’ argument, finding the trial court opinion adequately addressed the issue in its opinion, summarily explaining:
When Officer Falconio approached the vehicle, a mere encounter ensued, not an investigatory detention. Officer Falconio merely approached a parked vehicle in an empty parking lot at approximately 3:00 a.m. He did not need reasonable suspicion or probable cause to do so. Officer Falconio’s subsequent observations, as well as Appellant’s actions, permitted Officer Falconio to transform this mere encounter into an investigatory detention based upon articulable facts that suggested criminal activity might be afoot.
Slip Op., at 3-4. For these reasons, the Superior Court majority affirmed Adams’ sentence, and directed “a copy of the trial court’s opinion be attached to any future filings in this case.” Slip Op., at 4.
In a concurring opinion, Judge Strassburger, joined by Judge Stabile, reached the same outcome on a different basis, opining that the reasonableness of the officer’s request should not be the sole focus of the inquiry. Instead, the court should also consider “‘whether a reasonable person would have felt free to leave or otherwise terminate the encounter,’ including all circumstances evidencing “restrain[t] by physical force or show of coercive authority’ by police.” Slip Op. at 2 (Strassburger, J)(concurring). Applying this inquiry to Adams’ case to reach the same outcome as the majority, the concurring opinion concluded that the officer had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity based upon the car’s lingering presence in a parking lot behind closed businesses around 3 a.m. and Adams’ misstatement about the location of his keys.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur to determine:
Whether the trial court erred in denying Appellant’s motion to suppress when he was detained for pulling into his own business, when such was closed, and thus the stop and subsequent detention was not supported by probable cause or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity?
For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker.