Commonwealth v. Thomas, 1013 EDA 2020

CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtOPINION BY STEVENS, P.J.E.
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. D'Angelo THOMAS, Appellant
Docket Number1013 EDA 2020
Decision Date12 April 2022

273 A.3d 1190

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania
v.
D'Angelo THOMAS, Appellant

No. 1013 EDA 2020

Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

Submitted March 7, 2022
Filed April 12, 2022


Donald Bermudez, Philadelphia, appellant.

Lawrence J. Goode, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Andrew J. Greer, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth, appellee.

BEFORE: LAZARUS, J., KUNSELMAN, J., and STEVENS, P.J.E.*

OPINION BY STEVENS, P.J.E.:

273 A.3d 1194

Appellant D'Angelo Thomas appeals from the judgment of sentence of three years’ reporting probation entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County after he was found guilty of Firearms not to be carried without a license and Carrying firearms on public streets or public property in Philadelphia1 following a stipulated bench trial. After a careful review, we affirm.

The trial court set forth the relevant facts herein as follows:

According to the testimony of Officer James Craig, on March 27, 2019 at approximately 2:53 p.m. he was on patrol with his partner Officer Burton. At this time, Appellant was observed operating [a] bicycle on the sidewalk in the area of the 2000 block of Windrim Avenue in the city and county of Philadelphia. N.T. 2/21/20 at p. 7-9. It is a violation of City Ordinance 12-808 for anyone over the age of 12 to ride their bicycles on the sidewalk. N.T. 2/21/20 at p. 9-10, 20. Officer Craig, without activating his siren, pulled over his marked patrol vehicle to inform Appellant that given his age he cannot ride the bicycle on the sidewalk and instead must ride it on the street. N.T. 2121/20 at p. 10. After pulling alongside Appellant, Officer Craig asked Appellant "Yo, can you hold up a second?" N.T. 2/21/20 at p. 10-11, 18, 20.1 While Officer Burton was exiting the vehicle, Appellant pointed southbound and uttered something which Officer Craig could not hear. Immediately afterward, Appellant turned and ran northbound. While running northbound, Appellant reached into his wasteband [sic] and discarded a firearm which officers subsequently recovered. N.T. 2/21/20 at p. 10-11.

___

1 After a thorough cross-examination, this [c]ourt found that the exact statement by Officer Craig was "Yo, can you hold up for a second."

Trial Court Opinion, filed 7/19/21, at 1-2.

On February 21, 2020, immediately prior to the stipulated trial, the trial court denied Appellant's motion to suppress the firearm recovered at the scene. Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal on March 17, 2020, and on July 2, 2020, he filed his concise statement of matters complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). The trial court filed its Rule 1925(a) Opinion on July 19, 2021.

In his brief, Appellant presents a single claim for this Court's review:

Should the court below have found that there was a lack of probable cause to
273 A.3d 1195
stop and chase Appellant, and therefore granted the motion to suppress physical finding that he was coerced to abandon the firearm recovered from the street by police?

Brief for Appellant at 2.

"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. Williams , 941 A.2d 14, 26 (Pa.Super. 2008) (en banc ) (internal citations omitted).

[W]e may consider only the evidence of the prosecution and so much of the evidence for the defense as remains uncontradicted when read in the context of the record as a whole. Where the record supports the findings of the suppression court, we are bound by those facts and may reverse only if the court erred in reaching its legal conclusions based upon the facts.

Id. at 27.

The reviewing court's scope of review is limited to the evidentiary record of the pre-trial hearing on the suppression motion. In re L.J. , 622 Pa. 126, 79 A.3d 1073 (2013). "It is within the suppression court's sole province as factfinder to pass on the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony." Commonwealth v. Luczki , 212 A.3d 530, 542 (Pa.Super. 2019) (quoting Commonwealth v. Clemens , 66 A.3d 373, 378 (Pa.Super. 2013) ). If appellate review of the suppression court's decision "turns on allegations of legal error," then the trial court's legal conclusions are nonbinding on appeal and subject to plenary review. Commonwealth v. Smith , 164 A.3d 1255, 1257 (Pa.Super. 2017).

Appellant posits that if his circumstance is viewed objectively, it becomes evident he was forced to stop when the police officers approached him in a marked vehicle and asked him to "hold up for a second." He concludes that he was constitutionally coerced to run and abandon the firearm because the police had no requisite reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop him. Brief for Appellant at 4-5. In support of this contention, Appellant reasons as follows:

[ ] Appellant abandoned his firearm after Officer Burton began to chase on foot and Officer Craig began to chase in a marked patrol vehicle. (N.T., 02/20/21 at 12-13). Considering the totality of the circumstances, when Officer Craig pulled up alongside Appellant with his marked patrol vehicle and asked him "ly]o, can you hold up a second" he was not free to leave. Alternatively and logically, if Appellant was free to leave when that was asked, because it was a ‘mere encounter’, then the police lacked reasonable suspicion or probable cause to chase Appellant which Officer Craig did with his patrol vehicle and his partner did on foot. (N.T. at 12). Thus, when Appellant fled and abandoned his firearm, it [sic] was coerced by an illegal stop and chase of the police.

Id . at 8 (emphasis in original).

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution guarantee the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and possessions from unreasonable searches and seizures. Commonwealth v. Morrison , 166 A.3d 357, 363-64 (Pa.Super. 2017). "To secure the right of citizens to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, courts in Pennsylvania require law enforcement

273 A.3d 1196

officers to demonstrate ascending levels of suspicion to justify their interactions with citizens to the extent those interactions compromise individual liberty." Commonwealth v. Hampton , 204 A.3d 452, 456 (Pa.Super. 2019). Because interactions between law enforcement and the general citizenry are widely varied, search and seizure law examines how the interaction is classified and if a detention has occurred. Commonwealth v. DeHart , 745 A.2d 633, 636 (Pa.Super. 2000).

The focus of search and seizure law "remains on the delicate balance of protecting the right of citizens to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and protecting the safety of our citizens and police officers by allowing police to make limited intrusions on citizens while investigating crime." Commonwealth v. Moultrie , 870 A.2d 352, 356 (Pa.Super. 2005) (quoting Commonwealth v. Blair , 860 A.2d 567, 571 (Pa.Super. 2004) ) (internal quotation marks omitted). "[I]n assessing the lawfulness of citizen/police encounters, a central, threshold issue is whether...the citizen-subject has been seized." Commonwealth v. Strickler , 563 Pa. 47, 57, 757 A.2d 884, 889 (2000).

Contacts between the police and citizens fall within three, general classifications which are described as follows:

The first [level of interaction] is a "mere encounter" (or request for information) which need not be supported by any level of suspicion, but carries no official compulsion to stop or to respond. The second, an "investigative detention" must be supported by a reasonable suspicion; it subjects a suspect to a stop and a period of detention, but does not involve such coercive conditions as to constitute the functional equivalent of an arrest. Finally, an arrest or "custodial detention" must be supported by probable cause.

Commonwealth v. Goldsborough , 31 A.3d 299, 305 (Pa.Super. 2011), appeal denied , 616 Pa. 651, 49 A.3d 442 (2012) (quoting Commonwealth v. Bryant , 866 A.2d 1143, 1146 (Pa.Super. 2005), appeal denied , 583 Pa. 668, 876 A.2d 392 (2005) ).

Police officers must have reasonable suspicion that an individual is engaged in unlawful activity before subjecting that person to an investigative detention. Commonwealth v. Cottman , 764 A.2d 595 (Pa.Super. 2000).

An investigative detention, unlike a mere encounter, constitutes a seizure
...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT