The Superior Court has held that an officer’s attempt to stop a bicyclist for traveling the wrong way on a one-way was not unconstitutionally based on a de minims or pre-textual reason and the subsequent seizure of the firearm abandoned by the bicyclist was therefore lawful. Commonwealth v. Ibrahim, No. 3467 EDA 2014 (November 6, 2015).
Officer Marrero, a plain clothes police officer in an unmarked vehicle, observed Ibrahim riding a bicycle in the wrong direction on a one-way street in Philadelphia. He attempted to stop Ibrahim for a violation of the Motor Vehicle Code for riding his bicycle the wrong way by yelling “Stop, stop the bike,” at which time Ibrahim refused to stop, continued to pedal faster, and turned southbound onto a side street.The officer followed without initiating his lights or siren and Ibrahim eventually jumped off of the bicycle, removed a firearm from his waistband and discarded it on the street. The officer exited his vehicle, announced that he was the police, ordered Ibrahim to stop and chased and apprehended him.
Ibrahim was charged with persons not to possess a firearm, possessing a firearm with altered manufacturer’s number, carrying a concealed firearm without a license, carrying a firearm in Philadelphia, and possession of an instrument of crime.
The trial court granted Ibrahim’s Motion to suppress the seizure of the firearm because, in the trial court’s opinion, the stop was based on a de minimis and pre-textual violation of the vehicle code, rendering Ibrahim’s abandonment of the firearm forced and thereby unconstitutional.
The Commonwealth appealed the trial court’s ruling,
Did the trial court err in suppressing the firearm on the grounds that the stop was de minimis or pre-textual and the abandonment of the firearm therefore forced?
The Superior Court held that the trial court erroneously concluded that Officer Marrero’s actions were unconstitutional.
The Superior Court’s decision was based on the following conclusions:
THE OFFICER HAD PROBABLE CAUSE TO INITIATE THE STOP
The provisions of the Motor Vehicle Code apply because Ibrahim was on a bicycle at the time that the police observed him riding on a public street in the wrong direction, down a one-way street.
The investigation into the vehicle offense of driving in the wrong direction on a one-way street is completed as soon as the officer observes a motorist doing exactly that. No further investigation is required and nothing of evidentiary or investigatory value with regard to that particular offense can be ascertained once the stop is effectuated. Thus, a violation of this section, like speeding, is an offense that requires probable cause, not reasonable suspicion, before an officer may stop the vehicle.
Therefore, the moment that Officer Marrero observed Ibrahim riding his bike the wrong way on a one-way street, he had probable cause to stop Ibrahim.
THE STOP WAS NOT DE MINIMIS or PRE-TEXTUAL
The Superior Court rejected the trial court’s conclusion that the stop was a de minimis violation. A de minimis violation is one that is too trivial to warrant the condemnation of conviction. The Superior Court concluded that since the statutory language of the offense at issue does not include a provision setting forth how long a person must travel in the wrong direction before a violation occurs, the offense is therefore committed at the moment the motorist actually travels in the wrong direction.
The Superior Court also rejected the trial court’s conclusion that the stop for a minor traffic infraction was pre-textual in nature, i.e. – it was used by the police as an unjustified basis for stopping Ibrahim so they could investigate some other crime. After reviewing the record, the Superior Court concluded that Officer Marrero observed Ibrahim clearly violate a provision of the Motor Vehicle Code and that Officer Marrero attempted to stop Ibrahim based only upon that violation. The record therefore did not support any contention that Officer Marrero stopped Ibrahim for any other reason.
IBRAHIM’S ABANDONMENT OF THE FIREARM WAS NOT FORCED
Lastly, the Superior Court concluded that Ibrahim’s abandonment of the firearm was not forced. If an individual abandons property during the course of an unconstitutional stop for a vehicle code violation, the Court will consider the abandonment to be forced. If the abandonment is forced, the evidence recovered as a result of the forced abandonment must therefore be suppressed. However, because the Superior Court concluded that Officer Marrero had probable cause to stop Ibrahim and the stop was not unconstitutional, Ibrahim’s abandonment of the firearm was not forced and suppression was not warranted.
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