When is Simple Assault a misdemeanor of the third degree in Pennsylvania?

 Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Hodges, holding that the defendant bears the burden of proving at sentencing that a “mutual combat” Simple Assault should be graded as a misdemeanor of the third degree instead of a misdemeanor of the second degree. This is an important decision because it makes it easier for the Commonwealth to obtain the conviction for the higher-graded Simple Assault, and that charge cannot be expunged or sealed.  

What is the gradation of Simple Assault in PA?

Under Pennsylvania law, there are two types of Simple Assault. The most common variety of Simple Assault is a misdemeanor of the second degree. It simply involves knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury to another person. For example, punching someone in the face one time is usually going to be a Simple Assault unless very severe injuries occur. A misdemeanor of the second degree is punishable by up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Simple Assault (M2) also cannot be expunged or sealed pursuant to a limited access order. Therefore, a conviction for Simple Assault as an M2 will stay on your record for life unless you obtain a pardon from the Governor. 

Alternatively, Simply Assault can also be a misdemeanor of the third degree. The statute provides that when the Simple Assault was part of a mutual combat, then the court should instead grade Simple Assault as an M3. An M3 is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,000 fine. More importantly, Simple Assault (M3) is subject to Pennsylvania’s new limited access order law. This means that if you are convicted of Simple Assault (M3), you may petition the court to seal the conviction after ten years if you remain arrest-free during that period. Although this is not quite the same as an expungement, it drastically reduces the likelihood that potential employers are going to find out about the prior conviction. Law enforcement agencies and state licensing authorities will still have access to it, but the general public will not. Additionally, it is not possible to receive a state prison system for an M3, whereas an M2 could result in a state prison sentence because of the potential two year maximum.  

Who has to prove whether the Simple Assault is an M3 or an M2? 

The issue in Hodges is whether the Commonwealth or the defendant bears the burden of proving the degree of the Simple Assault. In Hodges, the defendant was convicted of Simple Assault by a jury. He appealed, arguing in the Superior Court that the trial court gave him an illegal sentence when it sentenced him on Simple Assault as a misdemeanor of the second degree because the Commonwealth never proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he had not engaged in a fight by mutual consent.

The Superior Court rejected this argument. It found that the issue of whether the charge should be graded as an M2 or an M3 is a sentencing issue which must be determined by the trial judge. Where the factfinder concludes beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant has committed a Simple Assault, the default gradation is the misdemeanor of the second degree. However, the defendant may then introduce additional evidence or make argument at sentencing that the judge should reduce the gradation of the charge to the third-degree misdemeanor based on the mutual consent section. In Hodges, the defendant never made that argument at sentencing, and therefore, the claim was waived. Had the defendant made this argument at sentencing, it is possible that the court would have reduced the gradation of the charge. Unfortunately, his defense attorney did not.

Notably, the VUFA 6106 gun charge statute which prohibits carrying a concealed firearm without a license has a similar gradation scheme. By default, a violation of VUFA 6106 is a felony of the third degree. However, the appellate courts have held in prior cases that the defendant may ask the court to find that a VUFA 6106 conviction should be graded as a misdemeanor of the first degree if the defendant can show that he or she was otherwise eligible to obtain a concealed carry permit and was not facing any other charges at the same time. Thus, the Superior Court has held that it is the defendant's burden in these types of cases to show that the defendant is eligible for a reduction in gradation. It is extremely important that defense counsel be aware of this burden as it may be too late to make the argument on appeal as it was for Hodges. 

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

 Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers

If you are facing criminal charges in PA or NJ, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients in assault cases and against all types of criminal charges. We offer a free 15-minute criminal defense strategy session to each potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding criminal defense attorney today.    

 

PA Superior Court: Violation of Philadelphia Police Directives Does Not Require Suppression of Drugs

 Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak T. Goldstein, Esquire

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak T. Goldstein, Esquire

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. McCleary, holding that suppression of the evidence is not required when Philadelphia Police Officers violate their own police department’s directives. In McCleary, the Court reversed the decision of the trial court and ruled that drugs recovered by the police officers may be admissible at trial even though police did not follow department protocol related to obtaining consent to a search of a private home. 

The Facts of Commonwealth v. McCleary

In McCleary, Philadelphia police officers responded to a radio call for a burglary in progress at a certain address. When they arrived at that address, they walked into the eventual-defendant’s house through an open door. In the living room, they found the defendant speaking with two other police officers. The arriving officers relieved the two who had already arrived and tried to figure out what was going on.

The defendant told the police officers that a woman who was present on the scene had tried to break into his home and that he had a valid Protection from Abuse (“PFA”) order against her. The woman responded that she lived there, had the right to be present in the home, and that she had belongings in the second-floor bedroom which would prove that she lived there. The officers did not take any steps to verify if the defendant in fact had a valid PFA.

Instead, the officers asked the defendant if they could see if the woman had belongings in the second-floor bedroom. The defendant twice told them that they could. The officers then walked upstairs to the bedroom. In the bedroom, they found in plain view a scale, a sandwich bag with marijuana, a box of unused drug packaging, eleven bags of crack cocaine, and clear plastic Ziploc bags. The defendant told the officers that the drugs belonged to him. The officers arrested him and charged him with Possession with the Intent to Deliver.

Motion to Suppress the Drugs

The defendant filed an omnibus pre-trial motion to suppress his statements and the drugs. The trial court held a hearing on the motion to suppress and ultimately granted the motion to suppress. The trial judge found that police violated with Philadelphia Police Department Directive 5.7, Sections 12 through 16, which address the procedure by which Philadelphia Police Officers are expected to obtain valid consent to search a home. The court found that the officers violated their own police directives by failing to obtain signed consent, failing to inform the defendant of his right to refuse consent, failing to consult with a supervisor, and failing to verify the defendant’s valid PFA and arrest the woman who was alleged violating it. The trial court granted the motion to suppress and ruled that the evidence would be inadmissible at trial, thereby essentially excluding the Commonwealth’s entire case.

The Commonwealth’s Appeal

The Commonwealth appealed to the Superior Court. In the appeal, the Commonwealth argued that Philadelphia Police Directives do not have the force of law. The Commonwealth argued that because police are not required by law or the constitution to follow them, the remedy for a violation of the directives should not be suppression of the evidence.

The Superior Court agreed with the Commonwealth’s arguments. It found that exclusion of the evidence via a successful Motion to Suppress is only required where the Government has violated a person’s right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure as provided by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Exclusion is not automatically warranted simply because the police failed to comply with a Rule of Criminal Procedure or the police department’s directives or regulations. Instead, suppression is only required when the police violate the constitution or certain statutes.

When can police search a home without a warrant? 

The Superior Court held that the question was not whether police violated their directives; instead, the question which the trial court should have addressed was whether the police obtained constitutionally valid consent to search the property. Although law enforcement officers must ordinary obtain a search warrant prior to searching a home, there are some exceptions to this rule. One of the main exceptions to the warrant requirement is consent. If you tell the police that they can search your house, then they do not have to get a warrant prior to doing so. 

How will a court decide if police voluntarily obtained consent to search a home? 

In evaluating consent, previous appellate decisions have suggested that courts consider the following factors:

  1. the presence or absence of police excesses;
  2. whether there was physical contact;
  3. whether police directed the citizen’s movements;
  4. police demeanor and manner of expression;
  5. the location and time of the interdiction;
  6. the content of the questions and statements
  7. the existence and character of the initial investigative detention, including its degree of coerciveness;
  8. the degree to which the transition between the traffic stop/investigative detention and the subsequent encounter can be viewed as seamless, thus suggesting to a citizen that his movements may remain subject to police restraint; and
  9. whether there was an express admonition to the effect that the citizen-subject is free to depart, which is a potent, objective factor.

Here, the Court evaluated the factors and found that there was nothing coercive about the police request to see the rest of the home. Certainly, they should have followed their directives, but their failure to do so did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Accordingly, the Superior Court reversed the decision of the trial court and ruled that the drugs may be admissible in the prosecution for Possession with the Intent to Deliver.

Notably, one of the three judges on this panel dissented, arguing that the trial court had in fact found that the police officers simply were not credible on the issue of whether they truly obtained consent. The trial court simply considered the violation of the directives as part of analyzing whether the police were telling the truth. This is important because once the defense files a motion to suppress in Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth must produce sufficient evidence to show that it is more likely than not that the police complied with the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions during the search and/or interrogation. If the trial judge finds that the police are not credible, then the judge may grant the motion to suppress for that reason even if what the police claim they did was legal. Thus, on remand, the defense may still argue that the judge found that the police were not credible and that the judge should clarify his or her opinion. However, it is clear that as a matter of law, a violation of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Directives does not automatically result in suppression of the evidence.

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

 Philadelphia Criminal Lawyers

Philadelphia Criminal Lawyers

If you are facing criminal charges, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients at the trial and appellate level in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We know the law and the defenses that will work in your case, and we recognize the types of defenses and arguments that are going to withstand appellate scrutiny. We offer a free 15-minute criminal defense strategy session to each potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.

PA Superior Court: Even Partial Concealment of Firearm Requires Concealed Carry Permit

 Criminal Defense Attorney Zak Goldstein

Criminal Defense Attorney Zak Goldstein

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Montgomery, finding that even partial concealment of a gun in a defendant's waistband establishes a prima facie case of a violation of VUFA 18 Pa.C.S. Sec. 6106 (firearms not to be carried without a license) for purposes of a preliminary hearing. Whether the defendant intended to conceal the firearm is likely an issue for trial, but the presence of the gun in the defendant's waistband, even though part of it was still visible, was enough to show concealment at a preliminary hearing. This is a bad case for the defense which makes it even easier for the Commonwealth to prove Violations of the Uniform Firearms Act. 

The Facts of Commonwealth v. Montgomery

Montgomery was arrested and charged with various violations of the uniforms firearms act. This case focused on whether or not the evidence presented at his preliminary hearing was sufficient to show that he had concealed the firearm in violation of 18 Pa.C.S. Sec. 6106. The Commonwealth called only witness at the preliminary hearing - the Philadelphia Police Officer who had arrested the defendant. At the hearing, the officer testified that he drove by the defendant and saw him “messing with” what the officer believed to be “the handle of a gun in his waistband.” The officer also testified that he could not see the entire gun. He could only see the the handle. 

The defendant then walked into a nearby store. The officer stopped his police car in front of the store and watched the defendant walk out of the store. The officer testified that the defendant saw him and then immediately walked back into the store. The officer exited his vehicle and went into the store. he stopped the defendant in the store, searched him, and did not find the gun. He did locate a gun several feet away on top of a rack of potatoes. The only other person in the store at the time was the cook, who was not very close to the gun. 

The officer arrested the defendant and charged him with violations of § 6106 and 18 Pa.C.S. § 6018 (Carrying Firearms on Public Streets or Public Property in Philadelphia). At the preliminary hearing, the Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge dismissed the § 6106 charge because, according to the court, the Commonwealth did not establish at a prima facie level that the defendant concealed the gun.

The Commonwealth then re-filed the complaint (which it is allowed to do under Rule 544 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure). In Philadelphia, re-filed criminal complaints are typically heard by a Common Pleas Judge who sits in Motions Court. That judge will review the transcript from the preliminary hearing and hear any new evidence or testimony which the Commonwealth wishes to present. That judge will then make a decision as to whether the charges should be held for court or whether the Municipal Court Judge correctly dismissed the charges. Notably, the Superior Court indicated in a footnote that this procedure is not technically correct as the re-filed complaint should be heard by the same Municipal Court Judge who dismissed the case. Alternatively, if the Commonwealth files a motion seeking a different judge for the second preliminary hearing, the case should be heard by a different Philadelphia Municipal Court judge. In this case, neither party objected to the usual procedure of the case being heard in the Court of Common Pleas, so the Superior Court did not do anything to disturb that procedural route. Nonetheless, it may be possible to object to this procedure in the future in order to keep a case in the Municipal Court. Nonetheless, the Commonwealth did not present any new evidence for the Court of Common Pleas Judge, and that judge also agreed that the Commonwealth failed to establish concealment of the firearm. The prosecution appealed to the Superior Court. 

What is VUFA § 6106? 

VUFA § 6106 basically makes it a crime to carry a concealed gun on your person or in a car without a concealed carry permit. There are some limited exceptions. The statute provides “[a]ny person who carries a firearm in any vehicle or any person who carries a firearm concealed on or about his person, except in the place of abode or fixed business, without a valid and lawfully issued license” commits a felony of the third degree. In other words, a person cannot have a gun without a valid license and conceal that gun or he or she will be in violation of § 6106.

As such, there are several elements to this charge. First, the defendant must have a gun. Second, the person must not have a valid license to possess the gun. Third, the person must not be in his home or fixed place of business. And finally, a defendant must conceal the gun. 

When is a gun concealed?

According to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, any concealment, including a partial concealment, is sufficient to establish the concealment element for § 6106. However, concealment is a fact-specific inquiry. For example, suppose someone is walking down the street in broad daylight with a pistol in his hand. This person is holding the gun up in his hand and tossing it up in the air. The police come and tell him to drop the gun and he puts the gun in his waistband. In this particular fact pattern, the defendant has probably not committed § 6106. Why? Because he made no attempt to conceal the gun. He made it very clear that he had a gun on his person.  

Now let’s change the fact pattern. Let’s suppose that someone is walking down the street and he has a gun in his waistband. A concerned bystander then notifies a police officer that this person has a gun. When the police officer approaches this person, he immediately tells the officer that he has a gun and gives it to him. This person has probably committed § 6106 because even though he was honest with the officer and cooperated with him, the gun was technically concealed for purposes of § 6106. 

Does the concealment element require the Commonwealth to prove a mens rea (mental state)? 

The answer to this question is yes, the Commonwealth must prove that the defendant was at least reckless in concealing the gun. As discussed in our December 9, 2017 blog (unlawful possession of a concealed firearm requires intentional concealment), the Superior Court held in the case of Commonwealth v. Scott that concealment is not established per se just because the gun is in the waistband. This might seem contradictory. However, it is important to remember at what stage each of these cases were decided. In Scott, the Superior Court reached its decision after a trial, and there was evidence in the record to suggest that the gun in that became concealed by accident. In the instant case, the defendant had not yet gone to trial. His case was only at the preliminary hearing level. The burden of proof is much lower at a preliminary hearing than at trial, where the prosecution must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Thus, in the context of VUFA § 6106, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly concealed the gun. However, the Commonwealth does not have the same burden at a preliminary hearing. At a preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth only needs to establish a prima facie case of guilt. Additionally, the Commonwealth is entitled to all reasonable inferences in its favor. In other words, it is a much lower burden for the Commonwealth to prevail at a preliminary hearing. If a gun is even remotely concealed, then according to the Superior Court, this will be sufficient to establish the element of concealment at a preliminary hearing. That does not mean the defendant will be convicted at trial; only that the defendant should be required to stand trial. In a gun case, there may be other defenses, including a motion to suppress for an illegal stop as well also officer credibility. 

The Superior Court Finds that the Commonwealth Proved Concealment

In a relatively short opinion, the Superior Court held that because the defendant had the gun in his waistband, the Commonwealth established concealment at the preliminary hearing. The Court further explained that the defendant's subsequent actions also showed that he intended to conceal the gun. Specifically, his decision to go back into the store and try to discard the gun indicated an intent to conceal the weapon. Therefore, the Superior Court held that the evidence was sufficient to establish concealment at a preliminary hearing. Consequently, the Defendant now must stand trial for § 6106.  

 Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers

Facing Criminal Charges? We Can Help. 

If you are charged with the illegal possession of a gun or any other criminal charge, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to evaluate your case, investigate for potential defenses, and provide you with all of the options. There are often defenses to gun charges ranging from motions to suppress, constructive possession arguments, and accidental concealment defenses. Our award-winning criminal defense lawyers have successfully defended thousands of clients in state and federal courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Call 267-225-2545 now for a complimentary 15-minute criminal defense strategy session.  

 

PA Superior Court Finds Police Command to Remove Hands from Pockets Requires Reasonable Suspicion

 Criminal Defense Attorney Demetra Mehta, Esq.

Criminal Defense Attorney Demetra Mehta, Esq.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently decided the case of Commonwealth v. Hemingway, and it has significant repercussions for criminal defendants who want to litigate a motion to suppress.  

The Facts of Commonwealth v. Hemingway

The facts of this case were as follows: Altoona Police Department patrolmen Joseph Detwiler and Derek Tardive responded to a noise complaint “in a high crime area.” No information or description was given regarding any person involved in the noise complaint. Once at the location, officers observed Mr. Hemmingway and another man speaking with two women in a car. Mr. Hemmingway had his hand in his pocket, and neither he nor the man he was with were inside the building where the noise complaint originated. Despite the fact that the noise complaint came from inside the building and the men were distinctly outside of the building, the officers decided to investigate the men because they were concerned that “if they responded to the noise complaint first, the men would not be there when they got outside."

Officer Detwiler ordered Mr. Hemingway to remove his hand from his pocket. Officer Tardive ordered Mr. Hemingway to put his hands on his head and stated that he would be conducting a pat-down search. Rather than comply, Mr. Hemingway immediately fled on foot. After the foot chase, the officers recovered Mr. Hemingway’s shoe. Near the shoe, they found four bags of a white powdery substance, later identified as cocaine. Mr. Hemingway was arrested and charged with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance (“PWID”), resisting arrest, escape, and disorderly conduct. 

The Motion to Suppress

In November 2016, Mr. Hemingway’s defense attorney filed a suppression motion, arguing police officers did not have reasonable suspicion to justify their initial attempt to stop and frisk. This motion argued Mr. Hemingway’s mere presence in a high crime area and the fact that he had his hand in his pocket did not reasonable suspicion make. In February 2017, the suppression court convened a hearing at which Officer Detwiler testified, and at which Officer Tardive’s preliminary hearing testimony was read into the record. 

On March 17, 2017, the suppression court granted the motion to suppress, finding that Mr. Hemmingway was subjected to an unlawful investigative detention as the officers lacked reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. 

The Criminal Appeal 

Not liking this opinion, the Commonwealth appealed, seeking relief by arguing the following points: 1) the suppression court erred in concluding that Officers Detwiler and Tardive did not possess reasonable suspicion that criminal activity may be afoot and that the defendant was armed and dangerous, and 2) the suppression court erred in suppressing controlled substances that were not found pursuant to a search of defendant, but were discarded by him before or during his struggle with police. 

In support of its arguments, the Commonwealth cited the following facts: 1) that the time of the encounter was 2:00 a.m.; 2) the area was a high crime area; 3) Appellee’s interactions with the vehicle were consistent with drug transactions; 4) Appellee “shoved his hand into his pocket when he made eye contact with the officers.

Before delving into its analysis of the sort of encounter Mr. Hemingway had with these officers the court noted: “ [t]here are three types of encounters between law enforcement officials and private citizens.” 1)  A “mere encounter” which need not be supported by any level of suspicion but carries no official compulsion to stop or respond. 2)  An “investigative detention” which must be supported by reasonable suspicion and subjects the suspect to a stop and a period of detention, but it does not have the coercive conditions that would constitute an arrest. (The courts determine whether reasonable suspicion exists by examining the totality of the circumstances.) 3) An arrest, or “custodial detention,” which must be supported by probable cause. 

In Mr. Hemingway’s case, the court had to determine 1) the type of encounter and corresponding level of suspicion required to support that encounter; and 2) whether the facts supported said level of suspicion.  

Previously the Superior Court has found that “to determine whether a mere encounter rises to the level of an investigatory detention, [it] must discern whether, as a matter of law, the police conducted a seizure of the person involved. To decide whether a seizure has occurred, a court must consider all the circumstances surrounding the encounter to determine whether the demeanor and conduct of the police would have communicated to a reasonable person that he or she was not free to decline the officer’s request or otherwise terminate the encounter.” Commonwealth v. Reppert, 814 A.2d 1196, 1201–1202 (Pa. Super. 2002). Therefore, the focal point of its inquiry in this case would be if, considering the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person innocent of any crime, would have thought he was being restrained had he been in the defendant’s shoes.

Now, a mere encounter is a “request for information.” It does not need supported by any level of suspicion and, carries no official compulsion to stop or respond. However, in order to conduct a pat-down of a person, police must have reasonable suspicion: A police officer is entitled to conduct a limited search of an individual to detect weapons if the officer observes unusual and suspicious conduct on the part of the individual which leads the officer to reasonably believe that criminal activity is afoot and that the person may be armed and dangerous.

In Pennsylvania, there is some precedent regarding police requests that defendants remove their hands from their pockets, and the level of encounter resulting from such orders. However, in this case, the Court concluded that although it could draw from such precedent, every incident is a fact-specific inquiry and partially dependent on the timing of the request.  In Martinez, two police officers in an unmarked vehicle pulled up alongside the defendant, requested that she come over to them, turn around, take her hands from her jacket, and put them on the car. See Martinez, 588 A.2d at 515. The officers exited the vehicle and approached Martinez from either side, preventing her from leaving. Id. The Martinez Court thus concluded that she had been seized for Fourth Amendment purposes and that reasonable suspicion was necessary to justify the stop. Id. at 515-16. 

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has previously stated in the case of Commonwealth v. Carter that if, during a mere encounter, an individual on his own accord, puts his hands in his pocket, he or she has created a potential danger to the safety of a police officer, the officer may justifiably reach for his side arm and order the individual to stop and take his hand out of his or her pocket. Such reaction by a police officer does not elevate the mere encounter into an investigative detention because the officer’s reaction was necessitated by the individual’s conduct. 

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Commonwealth v. Zhahir, has also recognized that when police officers are investigating an allegation of narcotics trafficking in a high crime area, they are justified in asking a defendant, who matches a police description, to remove his hands from his pockets.  Similarly, in Commonwealth v. Coleman, police officers were dispatched to a robbery in progress involving two black males wearing green hooded jackets covered by black coats. Police saw a man who they believed matched the flash description, and the officer inquired if he had a gun. In response, Coleman fumbled with his hands in his pockets. The officer then ordered Coleman to take his hands out of his pockets. Coleman refused, so the police took him to a police van, and two knives were recovered from his pockets. In this case, the court concluded that the officer’s request did not constitute a seizure and that the combination of 1) the description of the robber and 2) Coleman’s refusal to remove his hands from his pockets was sufficient to justify an investigative detention and protective frisk. 

This is different when a police officer creates his own dangerous situation and then uses that self-created danger as a basis for escalating the encounter into a seizure. See Carter, 779 A.2d at 594 (noting that telling suspect to put his hands in his pockets, then ordering him to take them out, police officer manufactured danger himself.)

In Mr. Hemingway’s case, the Superior Court decided that the initial interaction between officers and the defendant was not a mere encounter. Because, as noted above, a mere encounter constitutes a request for information and carries no official compulsion to stop and respond. As noted above the police may not manufacture their own dangerous situation to escalate a mere encounter into a seizure. Here, the defendant already had his hands in his pockets when the officers initiated the encounter. The Superior Court ruled that the interaction commenced with Officer Detwiler’s command that the defendant remove his hands from his pocket. Thus, the initial interaction was not a “mere encounter,” but was, instead, an investigative detention that must be supported by reasonable suspicion.

In this case the officers had no description of any suspects; they only had a complaint about noise. There was no report that anyone was armed with a weapon, nor was Mr. Hemingway’s behavior particularly suspicious. When the police arrived, Mr. Hemingway was speaking to two women, and his hands happened to be in his pockets. For these reasons the Superior Court declined to overturn the findings and rulings of the trial court. 

As I wrote above this case does have some repercussions for defendant’s hoping to successfully litigate a motion to suppress. First, it re-establishes that the police may not manufacture a crisis and then use that to escalate their interaction with a suspect. Second, absent other indicators of danger, a suspect having his or her hands in his or her pockets when the police first encounter them is not, by itself an indication of danger. That written, the court was clear that these interactions are to be treated on a case-by-case basis. 

 Goldstein Mehta LLC Criminal Defense Attorneys

Goldstein Mehta LLC Criminal Defense Attorneys

What that means for anyone facing a possessory crime is that they should immediately contact an attorney in order to prepare a defense. Once an issue like this is missed, it is very difficult to revive on appeal or even though a PCRA. If you are facing criminal charges, we can help. We offer a free criminal defense strategy session to every potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an award-winning defense attorney today.