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POLICE CANNOT USE A SHOW OF FORCE AND FALSE EXCUSE TO STOP AND ID PERSON OF INTEREST FROM INCIDENT OCCURRING ONE MONTH PRIOR

The PA Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Donte Lamar Parker, No. 877 MDA 2016 (May 1, 2017), holding that the trial court erred when it failed to suppress information obtained from Parker when two bike patrol officers stopped him at night to obtain his identification and, in doing so, falsely stated as a pretext that he was suspected of recent criminal activity.

On June 24, 2014, police were conducting a “buy-walk” operation, targeting a dealer that went by the street name of “Heart” who they would ultimately identify as Parker. During the investigation, they observed the then-not-yet-idetified Parker engage in a drug transaction; however, they did not immediately arrest him due to the protocol used in the “buy-walk” operation.

On August 1, 2014, Officer Hagy was parked in a police van at the McDonald’s parking lot on West King Street in the City of Lancaster when he observed the individual from June 24, 2014, whom he knew by the street name “Heart”. He communicated his observations to Officer Boas who was on bike patrol.

Officer Boas and Officer Mease stopped the “Heart” and, as a pretext for doing so, Officer Boas told “Heart” that there was a disturbance at the nearby McDonald’s and he was a part of the disturbance. Officer Boas asked “Heart” for his name, date of birth, address, telephone number and Social Security number because he did not have any identification on him at the time. The man identified himself as Donte Parker. After the Parker’s identity was confirmed, he was released. At all times, Parker was cooperative and provided the information requested of him. The detention lasted no longer than five minutes. Officer Boas conceded on cross-examination that the sole purpose for the stop was to identify the suspect for purposes of their felony drug investigation.

Parker was subsequently arrested for committing drug-related offenses on June 24, 2014 and again on July 17, 2014. The trial court granted the Commonwealth’s motion to consolidate both informations.

Prior to trial, Parker filed a motion to suppress the information that he gave police on August 1, 2014, i.e., his name, date of birth, address, telephone number and Social Security number, on the grounds that police (1) lacked reasonable suspicion to detain him, and (2) gave a pretextual reason for stopping him. The trial court held an evidentiary hearing and denied the motion.

Parker was subsequently convicted after a jury trial for possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver (“PWID”), criminal use of a communication facility and criminal conspiracy. This appeal followed, claiming that the trial court erred in denying Parker’s Motion to Suppress, where police subjected him to an investigative detention without reasonable suspicion that he was involved in any illegal activity on August 1, 2014.

The Superior Court first explained the level of interactions that police have with citizens. Both the Fourth Amendment of the Federal Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution protect individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. In Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, there are three categories of interactions between citizens and the police: (1) The MERE ENCOUNTER (or request for information) which need not be supported by any level of suspicions, but carries no official compulsion to stop or respond; (2) The INVESTIGATIVE DETENTION that must be supported by a reasonable suspicion and 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; and (3) The ARREST or “custodial detention” that must be supported by probable cause. Most litigation involving this area of the law involves the distinction between the mere encounter (which need not be supported by any level of suspicion but carries no compulsion to stop or respond) and the investigative detention (which must be supported by reasonable suspicion and subjects the citizen to a stop and brief detention).

In order to determine whether the conduct of the police amounts to a seizure or whether there is simply a mere encounter between citizen and police officer, Pennsylvania Courts will apply an objective standard, i.e. – whether a reasonable person, innocent of any crime, would have thought he was being restrained had he been in the defendant’s shoes. Stated another way: In view of all the circumstances surrounding the incident, would a reasonable person have believed he was not free to leave? Additionally, the courts will look to the totality-of-the-circumstances test to determine whether the suspect has, in some way, been restrained by physical force or show of coercive authority. The factors to be considered during such an analysis include the demeanor of the police officer(s); the manner of expression used by the officer(s) in addressing the citizen; the content of the interrogatories or statements; the number of officers present during the interaction; whether the officer(s) informed the citizen they are suspected of criminal activity; the location and timing of the interaction; and, the visible presence of weapons on the officer.

The Superior Court expressly noted that one specific combination of factors constitutes an investigatory detention as a matter of law and therefore requires a conclusion that a reasonable person would believe he was not free to leave: The threatening presence of several officers and the indication that the detainee was suspected of criminal activity.

With this analytical framework in place, the Superior Court then looked at the factors involved with Parker’s interaction with the police on August 1, 2014. In doing so, the appellate court noted that Officers Boas and Mease confronted Parker on the street at night and Officer Boas falsely told Parker that he was part of a disturbance at a McDonald’s, requesting information pertaining to Parker’s identity. Accordingly, the Superior Court concluded that this conduct gave rise to an investigative detention because a reasonable person – in the presence of two officers and after being confronted with a suggestion that he was suspected of criminal activity – would not have felt free to leave. (Note – the Superior Court distinguished this matter with a police request for identification which does not, in and of itself, transform a mere encounter into an investigative detention.)

The Superior Court also noted that although the police may have observed Parker engage in a drug transaction over one month earlier, there was no criminal activity afoot on the evening of August 1, 2014 and, therefore, no reasonable suspicion to stop Parker at that time.

Accordingly, the Superior Court concluded that the trial court erred in denying Parker’s Suppression Motion and, further concluded that this error prejudiced him because the Commonwealth used the information obtained from Parker on August 1, 2014 to connect him to the drug transactions on June 24, 2014 and July 17, 2014.

CASE LINK: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Superior/out/J-S94041-16o%20-%2010308348117164161.pdf?cb=1

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