Commonwealth v. Pinckney, PICS Case No. 14-0257 (C.P. Lehigh Dec. 24, 2014) Ford, J. (7 pages).

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CRIMINAL LAW

Vehicle Stop • Reasonable Suspicion • Probable Cause • Search and Seizure • Arrest

Commonwealth v. Pinckney, PICS Case No. 14-0257 (C.P. Lehigh Dec. 24, 2014) Ford, J. (7 pages).

Where two vice unit police officers observed a hand-to-hand transaction occur between the occupants of a vehicle in a high drug activity area, such observations gave police probable cause to believe one or more occupants of the vehicle had committed a crime.

Defendant Kevin Pinckney filed this appeal from judgment of sentence after his conviction for possession and tampering with physical evidence. Pinckney argued that the court erred in denying his pre-trial motion to suppress all physical evidence recovered from him on the basis that police lacked reasonable suspicion or probable cause to justify a stop of the car of which he was an occupant.

The court ruled that, under the totality of the circumstances, the arresting detectives had probable cause to believe that they had witnessed the sale of illegal drugs by the occupants of defendant's vehicle. The court noted that both arresting detectives had years of experience with their department's vice unit, and encountered defendant's vehicle in a known high drug activity area where one of the detectives had made dozens of arrests. They observed defendant's vehicle being followed by another vehicle in a manner associated with drug transactions. Upon stopping behind both vehicles, they witnessed the occupants of the second vehicle make a hand-to-hand transaction with the occupants of defendant's vehicle, and return with what appeared to the detectives from 10 to 15 feet away to be crack cocaine.

The court found that having made all of these observations at close range was sufficient for the detectives to have cause to believe they were witnessing a drug transaction and that one or more of the occupants of the defendant's vehicle were selling the drugs. Furthermore, even though the transaction occurred through the driver's side window of defendant's vehicle, and defendant was seated in the passenger seat, the court noted that where police have probable cause to believe one or more occupants of a vehicle have committed a crime, they are authorized to arrest all persons found inside the vehicle. Therefore, the court held that the cocaine found on defendant was lawfully obtained through a search incident to a lawful arrest.