Commonwealth v. Smith, PICS Case No. 14-0199 (Pa. Super. Jan. 31, 2014) Allen, J. (21 pages).


The Legal Intelligencer


Search and Seizure • Confessions • Parolee Rights

Commonwealth v. Smith, PICS Case No. 14-0199 (Pa. Super. Jan. 31, 2014) Allen, J. (21 pages).

Where parole agents conducted a "home check" of a parolee and plainly smelled marijuana while walking through the house, it provided reasonable suspicion necessary to conduct a search; and where suspect provided a confession in an attempt to secure his girlfriend's release, such confession is not necessarily coerced. Affirmed.

Appellant Braheem Smith was released on parole for drug-related offenses, and upon his release signed a consent to the search of his person and property without warrant by parole agents; a similar agreement was signed by Smith's girlfriend, Naadiya Dennis, who owned the residence at which Smith was living during his parole.

Smith's parole officer, Scott Peterson, received an anonymous tip that Smith was selling marijuana, after which Peterson scheduled and performed a house check on Smith's residence. As Peterson walked through the residence, he notice the smell of marijuana in the basement, where he found and seized a large quantity of marijuana, scales, baggies and a large amount of cash. Smith fled before he could be apprehended; Dennis was arrested when she returned home.

Smith later turned himself in, whereupon he was arrested and provided a Miranda rights and waiver form, which Smith signed before providing police with a signed written confession. Smith was charged with possession with intent to distribute. Smith filed a motion to suppress the seized evidence and his confession, which was denied by the court.

Smith appealed his conviction, contending that the trial court erred in refusing to grant his motion to suppress. Smith argued that parole agents searched his home without reasonable suspicion required by his parole agreement, and also argued that his confession was coerced by police by was of using Dennis' arrest as leverage.

The court found that parole agents only began with conducting a home check on Smith's residence, which the parole agreement permitted them to do at any time without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, and simply walked through the various rooms of the residence observing whatever was in plain view. The court held that the agents were legally in place when they noticed the marijuana smell, and that the odor of marijuana constituted "plain smell" which gave rise to reasonable suspicion necessary for the agents to conduct a search of the basement.

The court also held that Smith's confession was not coerced. The court noted that Smith had made the voluntary decision to turn himself in and confess in order to secure Dennis' release even before he arrived at the police station. The found that the officers at the station made no attempt to use Dennis' arrest or the evidence as leverage against Smith, or pressure, harass, subject to duress, or coerce him in any way.