This is an appeal from an Order of Commitment entered in Juvenile Court in Philadelphia County. Appellant asserts that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress. We agree and so reverse.
On October 21, 1991, police were contacted by a woman claiming to have information about a murder that occurred two days earlier on October 19, 1991. Two officers were dispatched to interview the woman, who informed them that five minutes earlier at a certain address, she saw a dark-complected black male who may have been involved in the murder. She described the male as approximately five-feet-seven-inches tall, wearing blue jeans and a peach jacket. The officers promptly went to the address, knocked on the door and got no answer. At that moment, they saw a black male in a peach jacket and blue jeans (appellant) walking toward them. They immediately searched appellant and found 45 vials of crack cocaine on his person. He was placed in handcuffs and transported to the Police Narcotics Division. He ultimately was found guilty of possession with intent to deliver.
The Commonwealth insists that based on the informant's description, the police had probable cause to arrest appellant at the time they searched him; therefore, a complete search incident to arrest was proper.
Our standard for determining the existence of probable cause is an analysis of the totality of the circumstances. Commonwealth v. Gray, 509 Pa. 476, 503 A.2d 921, 926 (1985) (citing Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238-39, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 2332, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983)). In the instant case, probable cause came from an informant's tip. We must be satisfied that the tip was reliable and, therefore, assess the informant's veracity as well as the basis for her knowledge in order to determine whether the officers had probable cause to arrest appellant. While the "totality" standard represents a loosening
There are a number of ways to determine the reliability of an informant's tip. We have been satisfied that an informant's tip constitutes probable cause where police have been able to provide independent corroboration of the tip or where the informant previously provided police with accurate information of criminal activity, or where the informant himself participated in the criminal activity. See Commonwealth v. Ogborne, 410 Pa.Super. 164, 599 A.2d 656 (1991) (probable cause found where informant's previous information was accurate and police corroborated tip), appeal denied, 530 Pa. 631, 606 A.2d 901; Commonwealth v. Carlisle, 348 Pa.Super. 96, 501 A.2d 664 (1985), aff'd, 517 Pa. 36, 534 A.2d 469 (1986) (probable cause established where informant engaged in criminal activity with accused, provided police with past information and there was independent corroboration).
In the instant case, the evidence does not support a finding of probable cause. Glaringly absent at the suppression hearing was any testimony regarding the basis of the informant's knowledge. It was not claimed that she was an eyewitness to the crime or had information from an individual involved in the murder.
Further, there was no independent investigation by the police to link appellant with the murder. The only evidence adduced at the hearing was that there was a question whether another individual, in addition to a suspect already in custody, was involved in the crime. The Commonwealth claims that the tip was "verified" by the officers because they found appellant, matching the informant's description, in the area she described. It is this verification, the Commonwealth argues, that gave the officers probable cause. We disagree. A mere description of an individual, with nothing more, does not establish probable cause.
In sum, the suppression court was presented with no evidence tending to prove that the information given to police was reasonably trustworthy. See Rodriguez, 526 Pa. at 272-73,
Order reversed. Jurisdiction relinquished.
CIRRILLO, J., files a Dissenting Statement.
CIRRILLO, Judge, dissenting:
I respectfully dissent from the majority's opinion. I have written extensively on the policy reasons for relaxing constitutional protections for juvenile court adjudication. See e.g. In the Interest of Davis, 377 Pa.Super. 46, 546 A.2d 1149 (1988) (Cirillo, P.J., dissenting). To reiterate, juvenile proceedings are unique because the goal is rehabilitation rather than punishment. Id. at 70, 546 A.2d at 1162. The juvenile justice system is best able to attain its goals by relaxing the full panoply of constitutional rights to which an adult would be entitled. The strict application of the suppression remedy for an unlawful search of a juvenile works against the rehabilitative opportunity afforded through juvenile adjudication.
Accordingly, I dissent.
It may be that the officer had information which could have proved the informant's reliability or revealed her basis of knowledge; if so, such information should have been presented to the suppression court. While our inquiry is guided by the facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge at the time of the arrest/search, we are aware of only those facts and circumstances to which the officer testifies.