Commonwealth v. Reed, 1611 EDA 2021

CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtOLSON, J.
Docket Number1611 EDA 2021,J-A13004-22
Decision Date09 August 2022



No. 1611 EDA 2021

No. J-A13004-22

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

August 9, 2022


Appeal from the Order Entered July 8, 2021 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-51-CR-0001192-2021

Joseph D. Seletyn, Esq.




The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania appeals from an order entered on July 8, 2021, which granted Paul Reed's (Mr. Reed or Appellee) motion to quash all counts of a criminal information filed against him. Herein, the Commonwealth contends that the trial court erred in its determination that it failed to establish a prima facie showing that Mr. Reed constructively possessed certain firearms recovered from a vehicle he occupied with two other individuals. After careful review, we affirm the order quashing the charges against Mr. Reed.

On November 22, 2020, a criminal complaint filed against Mr. Reed alleged multiple violations of the Uniform Firearms Act, including persons not to possess, use, manufacture, control, sell or transfer firearms, firearms not to be carried without a license, carrying firearms on public streets or public


property in Philadelphia, and possession of firearm with altered manufacturer's number, along with criminal conspiracy.[1]

A preliminary hearing was held on March 4, 2021, before the Honorable Wendy L. Pew. Officer Jessie West of the Philadelphia Police Department testified that on November 21, 2020 at approximately 1:00 p.m. in West Philadelphia, she and her partner initiated a traffic stop of a vehicle with an improperly tinted front windshield. N.T. Preliminary Hearing, 3/4/21, at 5-6. Three men occupied the vehicle: the driver, a passenger in the front passenger seat, and Mr. Reed in the back seat on the passenger's side. Id. at 6. Officer West asked the occupants for their identification, at which time all men complied. Id. Officer West explained that after running the men's information, she questioned Mr. Reed regarding a "cooler bag" sitting next to him in the back seat of the vehicle:

I first spoke to the rear passenger[, Mr. Reed]. I asked him - -there was a cooler bag to his left in like where the center seat would be in the rear of the car. I couldn't see what was in the bag. There was like a jacket or something on top of it. I asked [Mr. Reed] what was in the bag. He didn't answer, but he just moved - - he moved the bag slightly and then moved one of the sweatshirts from all of it, but I still couldn't see what was in the bag

Id. at 7-8. Officer West further explained:

He didn't pick up the bag. He slightly moved it. And then he [ ] took - like, there was a jacket or a sweatshirt or something off of the bag and kind of moved it over. But there were still other
things on top of the bag, so I still couldn't see what was inside of it

Id. at 22.

After this exchange, Officer West and other assisting officers removed the three men from the vehicle, placed them in handcuffs, secured them within separate police cars, and proceeded to conduct a search of the car. Id. at 8, 10. Officers found loaded firearms on the driver's person and under the front passenger's seat. Id. Officer West testified that she removed jackets from on top of the zipped cooler bag and found two more firearms inside - one loaded and another unloaded and within a gun case - beneath more clothing. Id. at 10-11. She did not find anything explicitly belonging to Mr. Reed inside the vehicle or cooler bag. Id. at 22-23. Neither Mr. Reed nor any of the other occupants of the vehicle possessed a license to carry firearms. Id. at 11.

At the conclusion of Officer West's testimony, defense counsel stipulated that Mr. Reed's prior record disqualified him from possessing firearms. Id. at 29. After brief argument, the lower court dismissed the charge for possession of a firearm with altered manufacturer's number for lack of evidence but otherwise bound the remaining charges of Mr. Reed's case over to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. Id. at 30.

On April 13, 2021, Mr. Reed, through counsel, filed a motion to quash the criminal information filed against him, arguing that the Commonwealth failed to produce evidence that Mr. Reed constructively possessed the firearms found within the cooler bag. See Motion to Quash, 4/13/21, at 2-3


(unpaginated). Mr. Reed asserted that the Commonwealth only connected Mr. Reed and the firearms via his presence next to the bag. Id. at 2. He further claimed the Commonwealth failed to link him to the firearms through ownership of the vehicle, bag, or other items, or through any forensic evidence such as DNA or fingerprints. Id. at 3. Consequently, Mr. Reed argued, the record as established at the preliminary hearing lacked direct and circumstantial evidence from which it could be inferred that Mr. Reed actually or constructively possessed the firearms recovered from the vehicle; thus, the charges against him could not stand. Id. After a hearing held on July 8, 2021, the trial court granted the motion to quash. See N.T. Motion Hearing, 7/8/21, at 10; see also Trial Court Order, 7/8/21 (quashing all charges). This appeal by the Commonwealth followed.[2],[3]

The Commonwealth raises the following issue on appeal:
Did sufficient evidence support a prima facie case for the [firearms and conspiracy charges] where [Mr. Reed] was in the back seat of a car sitting directly next to a bag containing two firearms, he moved the bag and refused to answer when a law enforcement officer asked him what was inside the bag, and the driver and a second passenger had their own guns?

Commonwealth's Brief at 4.[4]

We previously explained:
It is well-settled that the evidentiary sufficiency of the Commonwealth's prima facie case is a question of law to which this Court's review is plenary. The trial court is afforded no discretion in deciding whether, as a matter of law and in light of the facts presented to it, the Commonwealth has carried its burden to make out the elements of a charged crime.
[A]t the preliminary hearing stage of a criminal prosecution, the Commonwealth need not prove the defendant's guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but rather, must merely put forth sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case of guilt. A prima facie case exists when the Commonwealth produces evidence of each of the material elements of the crime charged and establishes probable cause to warrant the belief that the accused committed the offense. Furthermore, the evidence need only be such that, if presented at trial and accepted as true, the judge would be warranted in permitting the case to be decided by the jury.
Weight and credibility of evidence are not factors at the preliminary hearing stage. All evidence must be read in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, and inferences reasonably drawn therefrom which would support a verdict of guilty are to be given effect.

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