OPINION BY GANTMAN, J.:
¶ 1 Appellant, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, appeals from the order entered in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, which granted a motion to suppress the Commonwealth's evidence, filed on behalf of Appellee, Yusuf Copeland.
¶ 2 The suppression court opinion fully and correctly sets forth the relevant facts of this appeal as follows:
(Suppression Court Opinion, filed 1/7/08, at 3-5) (internal citations to the record omitted).
¶ 3 On May 10, 2007, the Commonwealth filed its information, charging Appellee with persons not to possess firearms,
¶ 4 The Commonwealth timely filed its notice of appeal on November 5, 2007. On November 9, 2007, the court ordered the Commonwealth to file a concise statement of matters complained of on appeal, pursuant to Pa.R.A.P.1925(b). The Commonwealth timely filed its Rule 1925(b) statement on November 29, 2007.
¶ 5 The Commonwealth now raises three issues for our review:
(Commonwealth's Brief at 1).
¶ 6 The relevant scope and standard of review are as follows:
Commonwealth v. Keller, 823 A.2d 1004, 1008 (Pa.Super.2003), appeal denied, 574 Pa. 765, 832 A.2d 435 (2003).
¶ 7 In its first issue, the Commonwealth contends Officer Townes approached the vehicle and observed Appellee making furtive movements towards the passenger's seat. The Commonwealth emphasizes the fact that a subsequent police radio broadcast identified Appellee as a wanted fugitive who should be considered "armed and dangerous." Although Officer Townes did not discover a weapon following a pat down search of Appellee, the Commonwealth claims this fact increased the likelihood that Appellee had hidden a weapon in his vehicle. Under these circumstances, the Commonwealth insists probable cause existed and exigent circumstances necessitated a warrantless search of Appellee's vehicle. The Commonwealth also argues: "The potential danger to police or public from a firearm in a car parked in the middle of the street made it imperative to find the firearm and impractical to obtain a warrant." (Commonwealth's Brief at 13). The Commonwealth concludes the court should have denied Appellee's suppression motion. We agree.
¶ 8 "The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, § 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution require that searches be conducted pursuant to a warrant issued by a neutral and detached magistrate. A search conducted without a warrant is generally deemed to be unreasonable for constitutional purposes."
¶ 9 "Nevertheless, we have adopted a limited automobile exception under Article I, § 8." Commonwealth v. McCree, 592 Pa. 238, 252, 924 A.2d 621, 630 (2007). Specifically, a warrantless search of an automobile may be conducted "when there exists probable cause to search and exigent circumstances necessitating a search." Casanova, supra at 211 (quoting Stewart, supra at 715). "Probable cause exists where the facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge are sufficient to warrant a prudent individual in believing that an offense was committed and that the defendant has committed it." Id. at 718 (quoting Commonwealth v. Dennis, 417 Pa.Super. 425, 612 A.2d 1014, 1015-16 (1992), appeal denied, 535 Pa. 654, 634 A.2d 218 (1993)). In determining whether probable cause exists, we must consider the totality of the circumstances as they appeared to the arresting officer. Stewart, supra. Additionally, "[t]he evidence required to establish probable cause for a warrantless search must be more than a mere suspicion or a good faith belief on the part of the police officer." Commonwealth v. Lechner, 454 Pa.Super. 456, 685 A.2d 1014, 1016 (1996).
¶ 10 "Exigent circumstances arise where the need for prompt police action is imperative, either because evidence is likely to be destroyed ... or because there exists a threat of physical harm to police officers or other innocent individuals." Stewart, supra at 717 (quoting Commonwealth v. Hinkson, 315 Pa.Super. 23, 461 A.2d 616, 618 (1983)). When evaluating whether there are exigent circumstances which justify a warrantless search, "a court must balance the individual's right to be free from unreasonable intrusions against the interest of society in quickly and adequately investigating crime and preventing the destruction of evidence." Stewart, supra at 717. An officer may search an automobile for a weapon if he has a reasonable belief the suspect is dangerous and the suspect might gain control of a weapon. Commonwealth v. Rosa, 734 A.2d 412 (Pa.Super.1999), appeal denied, 561 Pa. 693, 751 A.2d 189 (2000). Further:
McCree, supra at 252-53, 924 A.2d at 630 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted) (emphasis in original).
¶ 11 In Commonwealth v. Stainbrook, 324 Pa.Super. 410, 471 A.2d 1223 (1984), the defendant and his companion sat in a parked truck in an empty lot late at night. A police officer approached the truck, detected the odor of burnt marijuana, and observed the defendant make a furtive movement inside the truck. The officer requested identification, and the two men complied with the officer's demand. At that point, the officer noticed the defendant's
¶ 12 The Commonwealth charged the defendant with unlawful possession of a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the marijuana and drug paraphernalia on the grounds that the police seized the evidence pursuant to an illegal search and arrest. Following a hearing, the court granted the defendant's motion. The Commonwealth appealed, asserting the officer's warrantless search was justified, the defendant consented to the search, and the search was valid as incident to a lawful arrest. On appeal, this Court determined the officer's search was legal:
Stainbrook, supra at 1224-25 (internal citations omitted).
¶ 13 Instantly, Officer Townes observed Appellee's vehicle travel through a stop sign. Officer Townes activated the overhead lights and siren on his patrol car and followed Appellee. In response, Appellee stopped his vehicle in the middle of the road. As Officer Townes exited his patrol car and approached Appellee's vehicle, he saw Appellee make furtive movements. Specifically, Appellee's right hand reached toward the back of the front passenger seat. Thereafter, Appellee moved his hand back to the steering wheel. When Appellee rolled down the window, a cloud of smoke emanated from the interior of the vehicle, and Officer Townes immediately recognized the odor of burnt marijuana.
¶ 14 Officer Townes asked Appellee if he knew he had run a stop sign. Appellee, however, did not respond to the officer's question. Officer Townes requested Appellee's driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. Appellee provided these items, but he also made certain "fidgeting" motions, "shifting around, reaching around [and] doing all kinds of movements." (N.T. Suppression, 8/2/07, at 18).
¶ 15 Officer Townes returned to his vehicle to run Appellee's information through the radio communication system in his patrol car. In a matter of seconds, Officer Townes learned that Appellee was wanted on a warrant in Philadelphia and should be considered "armed and dangerous." (Id. at 23). Backup officers also heard this radio communication and responded to the scene. With his backup in place, Officer Townes ordered Appellee to step out of his vehicle. Appellee complied with this request, and Officer Townes conducted a pat down search. Although Officer Townes did not discover contraband on Appellee's person, he handcuffed Appellee and secured Appellee in the back of his patrol car.
¶ 16 With Appellee in custody, Officers Evans and Takacs approached Appellee's minivan. Officer Evans independently verified the smell of burnt marijuana emanating from inside the minivan. (Id. at 87). Officer Evans also opened the sliding rear door on the passenger's side of the vehicle. The officer "immediately in plain view ... could see a small portion of a firearm sticking up from ... the magazine pouch" on "the rear of the front passenger seat...." (Id. at 89) Officer Evans notified Officer Takacs, who removed the loaded, semiautomatic, .9 millimeter firearm. Additionally, Officer Takacs located a small amount of marijuana near the front driver's seat.
¶ 17 Under the totality of these circumstances, the officers had more than a "mere suspicion or a good faith belief" that Appellee was engaged in illegal activity. See Casanova, supra; Lechner, supra. Factors including Officer Townes' observation of a furtive movement, the detection of the odor of marijuana, and Appellee's status as an "armed and dangerous" fugitive
¶ 18 Moreover, the police did not have any advance knowledge that Appellee's vehicle would be carrying contraband at the time of the stop. See McCree, supra. Officer Townes' interaction with Appellee began abruptly when the officer effectuated a routine traffic stop. Within minutes, Officer Townes had developed probable cause to believe that marijuana and a weapon were inside the vehicle. As such, Officer Townes did not have an adequate opportunity to obtain a search warrant. See id. To protect the public and preserve evidence, Officer Townes and his colleagues moved quickly to seize the contraband from the vehicle, which Appellee had stopped in the middle of the road. We conclude this "prompt police action" was imperative. See Stewart, supra.
¶ 19 Based upon the foregoing, we hold the officers legally seized the contraband. See Keller, supra. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's suppression order and remand for further proceedings.
¶ 20 Order reversed; case remanded for further proceedings. Jurisdiction is relinquished.