Com. v. Ametrane

Decision Date17 June 1965
Citation210 A.2d 902,205 Pa.Super. 567
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Joseph AMETRANE, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court

Joseph W. deFuria, deFuria, Larkin & deFuria, Chester, for appellant.

Ralph D. D'Iorio, Asst. Dist. Atty., Domenic D. Jerome, First Asst. Dist. Atty., Jacques H. Fox, Dist. Atty., Media, for appellee.


ERVIN, President Judge.

On August 27, 1963, a detective of the District Attorney's office of Delaware County entered and searched the premises 316 West Ninth Street, Chester, Pennsylvania, and arrested Joseph Ametrane, the appellant. The detective, John MacCrory, had filed complaints for warrants authorizing a search of the premises and Ametrane, and for a body or arrest warrant. The warrants were issued by a justice of the peace and were in MacCrory's possession when the searches and the arrest were made.

Ametrane's application and petition to suppress evidence, which was obtained as a result of the search, were dismissed. He was convicted on two counts on indictment No. 110, one setting up a gambling establishment (18 P.S. § 4605) and one for aiding and assisting others to gamble (18 P.S. § 4612). On indictment No. 111 he was convicted of bookmaking. (18 P.S. § 4607).

Motions in arrest of judgment and for a new trial were dismissed and Ametrane was sentenced on indictment No. 110 to serve three months in prison and to pay a fine of $300.00. Sentence was suspended on indictment No. 111.

In these appeals Ametrane raises four questions: (1) the sufficiency of the warrants, (2) the legality of the search and seizures, (3) the admissibility into evidence of the prosecution question, 'Is the defendant a bookie?' and the answer thereto by an expert witness, and (4) the sufficiency of the evidence to support the convictions.


Appellant argues that the complaint for the arrest warrant was insufficient and that his motion to suppress evidence obtained at the time of the arrest and incident to it should have been granted. The petition to suppress evidence attacks the validity of the search warrants, but not the arrest warrant. Assuming all three warrants were under attack at the hearing on defendant's motion, we are of the opinion that the issues raised were properly decided by the court below. Adequate probable cause for the issuance of the warrants was shown since the detective based his request for warrants on 'information received from persons of reliable and good reputation' and personal knowledge and belief that the offenses were being committed obtained by investigation and surveillance. When the complaints were sworn and when the arrest was made the facts and circumstances within the detective's knowledge and of which he had reasonably trustworthy information were sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing the defendant had committed or was committing an offense: Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 69 S.Ct. 1302, 93 L.Ed. 1879 (1949); Beck v. State of Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 85 S.Ct. 233, 13 L.Ed.2d 142 (1964).

The complaints for search warrants for the premises and the person of Joseph Ametrane presented the issuing magistrate the grounds on which affiant, John MacCrory, formed his belief that illegal acts had been and were being committed by Ametrane at the designated premises: 'Complaints and information received from persons of reliable and good reputation, which your affiant has reason to believe and does believe to be true and upon which he has relied in making this affidavit that accused takes horse bets over the telephone and from other persons at the above address all day.

'Personal knowledge, that County Detectives were assigned to investigate the original complaint; that the undisclosed agent reported the placing of horse bets and that your affiant has personally observed this location for some time and from their reports and my personal knowledge and experience in such activities the original complaint has been corroborated.'

The transcript of the issuing justice of the peace contains the following passage: '* * * John MacCroy, who being duly sworn according to law deposes and says upon information received from investigation which he believes to be true and expects to be able to prove, upon personal knowledge that Joseph Ametrane on the 27th day of August, A.D.1963 and within the past two years in the City of Chester, County of Delaware, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, did engage in Bookmaking, Establishing a Gambling Place, see attached copies of information, contrary to the form of the Act of Assembly in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.' This is an adequate recital of an offense. The information used to institute criminal proceedings, as a basis for the warrant, need not be set forth with the particularity of an indictment; it is enough if the information states a criminal offense committed by defendant, its general nature, and its time and place: Com. ex rel. Garland v. Ashe, 344 Pa. 407, 409, 26 A.2d 190, 191 (1942).

The danger in an inadequate information is that the magistrate issuing a warrant will do so without making a detached and independent appraisal on the issue of probable cause. Where, as here, the record clearly shows the facts and considerations on which the decision to issue the warrants rests, and such facts and considerations are adequate to support the magistrate's independent determination of probable cause, and an offense is charged, we will uphold the validity of the warrants.

The Supreme Court of the United States recently said: 'If the teachings of the Court's cases are to be followed and the constitutional policy served, affidavits for search warants, such as the one involved here, must be tested and interpreted by magistrates and courts in a commonsense and realistic fashion. They are normally drafted by nonlawyers in the midst and haste of a criminal investigation. Technical requirements of elaborate specificity once exacted under common law pleadings have no proper place in this area. A grudging or negative attitude by reviewing courts toward warrants will tend to discourage police officers from submitting their evidence to a judicial officer before acting.

'This is not to say that probable cause can be made out by affidavits which are purely conclusory, stating only the affiant's or an informer's belief that probable cause exists without detailing any of the 'underlying circumstances' upon which that belief is based. See Aguilar v. State of Texas, supra. [378 U.S. 108, [84 S.Ct. 1509, 12 L.Ed.2d 723]] Recital of some of the underlying circumstances in the affidavit is essential if the magistrate is to perform his detached function and not serve merely as a rubber stamp for the police. However, where these circumstances are detailed, where reason for crediting the source of the information is given, and when a magistrate has found probable cause, the courts should not invalidate the warrant by interpreting the affidavit in a hypertechnical, rather than a commonsense, manner. Although in a particular case it may not be easy to determine when an affidavit demonstrates the existence of probable cause, the resolution of doubtful or marginal cases in this area should be largely determined by the preference to be accorded to warrants.' United States v. Ventresca, 380 U.S. 102, 85 S.Ct. 741, 13 L.Ed.2d 684 (1965). It is our opinion that the record adequately supports the warrants in the present case, and that the warrants were valid.

In this appeal the fact that the complaint failed to state a date on which the alleged crime was committed is offered as a fatal defect. Appellant contends that a defect in the complaint renders the arrest, search, indictment, trial, and sentence of the party named in the complaint void and without legal effect. The indictments supply the defect, if any, in the complaints. Com. v. Bruno, 203 Pa.Super. 541, 201 A.2d 434.


The validity of a search made pursuant to a validly issued warrant turns on its reasonableness. The...

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32 cases
  • United States v. Kohne, Crim. A. No. 71-254.
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    ...aspects of the gambling operation involved in this case. Moore v. United States, 394 F.2d 818 (5th Cir. 1968); Commonwealth v. Ametrane, 205 Pa.Super. 567, 210 A.2d 902 (1965), aff'd, 422 Pa. 83, 221 A.2d 296 (1966); Commonwealth v. Smith, 186 Pa.Super. 89, 140 A.2d 347, 349 Finally, defend......
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