BriefLaw: Commonwealth v. Au

Published on 01 December 2009 by in Blog


Commonwealth v. John Au  2009 PA Super 231 (12/01/2009)

Topic: Suppression of Evidence – Mere Encounter vs. Investigative Detention

Summary: Where an officer approaches a vehicle to see if the occupants are in need of help, the mere encounter is transformed to an investigative detention when the officer persists in asking questions after he has received information showing the occupants are not in need of help.

Illustration: The defendant was in a vehicle in public parking lot hours after the establishment at which he was parked had closed. The officer claimed that he approached the vehicle to determine whether the occupants needed any help.  After approaching the vehicle, the officer asked the occupants what they were doing.  The occupants responded that they were just hanging out.  At that point, the officer asked for identification.  Judge Bender concluded that, while the approach and question about what the occupants were doing was a mere encounter, the incident became an investigative detention when the officer asked for identification.

Judge Bender aptly noted (emphasis added),

While a person in Appellee’s situation may have surmised that the officer initiated the encounter to merely check upon the vehicle and its occupants, the subsequent request for identification from all of the vehicle’s occupants would have signaled to any reasonable person that the officer was unsatisfied with the response that the occupants were just hanging out, and that the officer wanted to investigate further. Knowing that the officer sought to investigate further and that this was no longer a situation where the officer was just checking in to see if the occupants were in need of assistance, no reasonable person would have felt free to terminate the encounter.

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BriefLaw: Commonwealth v. Rowe

Published on 16 November 2009 by in Blog


Commonwealth v. Collin Rowe 2009 PA Super 215 (11/12/2009)

Topic: Warrantless Entry – Motion to Suppress

Summary: A police officer must be able to identify exigent circumstances to justify a warrantless entry into a home.  An open door during the “typical waking hours of the night” with no other facts showing exigency is insufficient to justify a warrantless entry.

Facts: During a nighttime storm that caused downed powerlines, a police officer entered Rowe’s home through an open rear door.  The officer witnessed nor received any reports of suspicious activity.  The officer also did not receive any calls or requests for help at Rowe’s address.  The officer announced his presence and proceeded to search the residence.  The officer recovered a marijuana pipe. The officer took the pipe and left the residence.  Rowe was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia (35 Pa.C.S.A. Section 780-113(a)(32)).  The Superior Court concluded that the facts as presented were not sufficient to justify the officer’s warrantless entry into Rowe’s home.

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Commonwealth v. Harry Galendez

Published on 04 October 2009 by in Legal Briefs


Commonwealth v. Harry Galendez 2009 PA Super 185 (9/16/2009)

Topic: Defendant’s Right to be Present – Parole and Probation Searches


  1. The defendant and his counsel have the right to be present at every crucial stage of the trial process, including the issuing of probationary conditions.
  2. Searches made as a condition of parole or probation must be supported by reasonable suspicion. Additionally, the trial court may not make any parole or probation conditions for any sentence that would subject the defendant to the supervision of the State Board of Probation and Parole.

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