Commonwealth v. Valdivia, No. 9 MAP 2017

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtJUSTICE DONOHUE
Citation195 A.3d 855
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Randy Jesus VALDIVIA, Appellant
Decision Date17 October 2018
Docket NumberNo. 9 MAP 2017

195 A.3d 855

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee
Randy Jesus VALDIVIA, Appellant

No. 9 MAP 2017

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Argued: November 28, 2017
Decided: October 17, 2018

Aaron Joshua Marcus, Esq., Defender Association of Philadelphia, Mark B. Sheppard, Esq., Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, L.L.P., for Defender Association and PACDL, Amicus Curiae.

Wayne E. Bradburn Jr., Esq., Marc Andrew Decker, Esq., Decker Bradburn, Attorneys at Law, for Valdivia, Randy Jesus, Appellant.

Bernard Flynn Cantorna, Esq., Lawrence Jonathan Goode, Esq., Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, Michael Matthew Osterberg, Esq., Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellee.




This discretionary appeal addresses the scope of consent given by a motorist to law enforcement for the search of his vehicle. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the consent given by Appellant, Randy Jesus Valdivia ("Valdivia"), to Pennsylvania State Police Troopers Jeremy Hoy and David Long to search his van did not extend to a canine search occurring approximately forty minutes later. A reasonable person in Valdivia's position would not have understood that he was consenting to such a search. We therefore reverse the decision of the Superior Court and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

At approximately 4:30 p.m. on December 12, 2013, Troopers Hoy and Long were traveling together in a marked police cruiser on Interstate 80 in Centre County, Pennsylvania. They drove behind Valdivia, who was operating a white minivan with a Michigan plate. After about two miles, they observed Valdivia change lanes without using his turn signal and initiated a traffic stop on that basis.1 Trooper Lang stood at the rear of Valdivia's vehicle while Trooper Hoy approached on the passenger side of the van and requested Valdivia's license, registration and proof of insurance. Valdivia responded that he was about to run out of gas and gave the trooper his license, issued in the State of Florida, and a rental agreement for the vehicle. Trooper Hoy noted that Valdivia was nervous and his hand was shaking when he handed

195 A.3d 858

Trooper Hoy the documentation, something the trooper said he "look[s] for in every traffic stop." N.T., 8/8/2014, at 9.

When asked, Valdivia explained that he was traveling to Union City, New Jersey to visit family. He told Trooper Hoy that he had originally planned to fly there from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but his plane was rerouted to Detroit, Michigan. He missed his connecting flight to New Jersey and decided to drive the rest of the way. Trooper Hoy observed two large boxes wrapped in Christmas paper in the back of the van. Based on Valdivia's story, the trooper found it odd that the gifts had no "markings from an airliner," and were "not banged up." Id. at 11. He testified to his familiarity with the tactic of wrapping boxes containing drugs in Christmas paper during the holiday season for camouflage.

Additionally, Trooper Hoy found it strange that the rental agreement showed that Valdivia had rented the vehicle in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which was approximately thirty miles away from the airport in Detroit. The rental agreement also indicated that it was a one-way rental, which the trooper stated he knew to be "common with ... criminals traveling across the country" trafficking drugs. Id. at 15. Further, through his training and experience, Trooper Hoy was aware that drug traffickers often used the I-80 corridor to travel from Detroit to New York and surrounding areas.

Trooper Hoy returned to his vehicle and, as he did in every traffic stop, ran a record check on Valdivia. While he waited for the report on Valdivia's prior record, Trooper Hoy contacted State Police K-9 Officer Aaron Tiracorda to conduct the search of the vehicle with his canine partner, Tom.2 Because Trooper Tiracorda was off duty at that time, he had to drive to the scene from his house, which was located approximately thirty miles away. When the record check returned, it revealed that Valdivia had previously been charged in Florida with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance.

Troopers Hoy and Long approached Valdivia's vehicle together and asked him to step out of the car. Trooper Hoy explained the written warning Valdivia was receiving for failing to use his turn signal when changing lanes. After returning his documentation, Trooper Hoy asked Valdivia if he would answer a few more questions. Although Valdivia again stated that he needed to go get gas in his van, he agreed to answer additional questions. Trooper Hoy asked Valdivia why he did not fly directly from Fort Lauderdale to either New York City or Newark, New Jersey. In response, Valdivia altered his original story, stating instead that he flew to Detroit to visit a friend (a linebacker for the Detroit Lions). Valdivia indicated that he had arrived in Detroit around 11:00 p.m. on December 11 and then left the next morning around 9:00 a.m. to rent the vehicle and drive to New Jersey. Trooper Hoy asked about the location of the rental agency, and Valdivia explained that when he arrived at Detroit's airport, all of the rental companies were closed, and so he

195 A.3d 859

went to Ann Arbor the next morning to rent the vehicle.

Upon hearing this new version of events, Trooper Hoy asked for Valdivia's consent to search the vehicle. Valdivia gave his verbal consent, and thereafter signed a written consent presented to him by Trooper Long.3 Although it was Trooper Hoy's "standard practice" to "keep the individual informed of what's happening [during] a traffic stop," he could not say that he specifically informed Valdivia either that a canine (and not a human) would be conducting the search or that he would have to wait until Trooper Tiracorda arrived with Tom for the search to occur. Id. at 55-56.

It was a cold evening, and Valdivia accepted the troopers' offer for him to sit in the back of the police cruiser while he waited. Trooper Tiracorda and Tom arrived approximately forty minutes later, at 5:40 p.m. Prior thereto, neither Trooper Hoy nor Trooper Long conducted a search of Valdivia's vehicle. Upon the arrival of Tom and Trooper Tiracorda, the troopers removed the two Christmas packages and a suitcase from the back of the van. Tom alerted on one of the two boxes, and subsequently indicated on the same box.4 After Trooper Tiracorda relayed this information to the other troopers, they opened both boxes and found clear, vacuum-sealed packages containing individually wrapped bags of suspected marijuana. The trooper seized the boxes, as well as a mobile smartphone and tablet, and arrested Valdivia. The total weight of the suspected contraband was approximately twenty pounds. Subsequent testing confirmed that it was marijuana.

The Commonwealth charged Valdivia with possession of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and possession of drug paraphernalia.5 Valdivia filed a timely omnibus pretrial motion seeking, inter alia, suppression of all evidence obtained as a result of the search of his vehicle. Of relevance to this appeal, Valdivia alleged that his consent was not voluntarily given, and that even if it was voluntary, the canine sniff and the lengthy delay exceeded the scope of any purported consent he gave. He argued that all evidence obtained from his vehicle must be suppressed pursuant to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Following a hearing on the motion before the Honorable Thomas King Kistler, at which the above-referenced testimony was presented, the court denied suppression. The suppression court found that Valdivia had voluntarily given his consent to search and that it was not the product of police coercion. The suppression court further found that the use of a canine sniff was within the scope of his consent because Valdivia "never indicated he was limiting his search so as not to include a consent for a K-9 Unit, nor did he make any attempt to revoke consent when he

195 A.3d 860

saw the K-9 Unit arrive." Suppression Court Opinion, 9/9/2014, at 9. Because Valdivia was engaged in the transport of illegal drugs, the suppression court found that he should have been aware that a canine sniff was within "the realm of possibilities." Id.6

Judge Kistler held a stipulated bench trial on October 27, 2014, at which the parties agreed to the submission of the criminal complaint, the lab report confirming the substance recovered to be marijuana and recording the weight thereof, and the transcripts of the preliminary hearing and the suppression hearing. The court convicted Valdivia of the crimes charged and on January 23, 2015 sentenced him to 11½ to 23 months of incarceration followed by 30 days of probation.

Valdivia timely appealed to the Superior Court, challenging, in relevant part, the finding by the suppression court that his consent was voluntarily given, contending that the investigative detention that occurred following the completion of the purpose of the original traffic stop was unlawful and that...

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