The PA Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Raglin, No. 1152 WDA 2016, January 23, 2017, holding police had reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigative detention of Raglin after they received a gunshot detection warning notice, quickly followed by observations of Raglin’s suspicious activity in the area where the gunshots were detected.

Police officers were dispatched to a location after having received a “Shot Spotter” notification. The “Shot Spotter” system is used to detect gunshots and, when an alert tone comes to the desktop monitor, a red dot appears on a map, showing the most accurate location of the shot.

The first-responding officer arrived at the location in less than a minute. He “observed two black males in the street very close to the location of the shot fired on the shot spotter who separated when they saw police, with one getting in a silver Lincoln and the other getting into a maroon sedan. The officer then followed both vehicles, eventually losing sight of the maroon car. The Lincoln was observed making several turns, eventually pulling over on Thomas Boulevard.”

Raglin opened his door and attempted to get out of the car but the officer “ordered him to place his hands on the trunk where he conducted a pat-down search, due to the nature of the call where a shot was allegedly fired.” Another officer walked up to Raglin’s vehicle and observed a handgun on the console in plain view. Raglin thereafter told the officer that “he had a warrant and a gun he was trying to get away,” after which time he was placed in handcuffs.

After denying Raglin’s Suppression Motion, the trial court found him guilty of person not to possess a firearm, carrying a firearm without a license, possession of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana, and driving with a suspended license. Raglin filed an appeal, essentially arguing that the police lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigative detention in this case.

Raglin noted that this was the first time the Superior Court addressed an issue involving “Shot Spotter” technology. He suggested the technology was “almost the equivalent of an anonymous tip,” but, in his analysis, less reliable than an anonymous tip because it “is incapable of providing a description of potential suspects that can be confirmed by police as the law requires.”

The Superior Court was “skeptical” of Raglin’s analogy, noting that the Court’s suspicion of uncorroborated anonymous tips is premised on human imperfections involving the potential for both misperception and intentional wrongdoing by the tipster, often coupled with an inability to test the reliability of the tip.

Accordingly, the Superior Court concluded that the risks of unreliability from anonymous tips appear more significant than those presented by the “Shot Spotter” technology. Moreover, it did not believe a definitive ruling on the degree of reliability of the “Shot Spotter” technology was prudent at this time because this case involved circumstances beyond the mere “Shot Spotter” notification.

Here, the Superior Court concluded that the totality of the circumstances in Raglin’s case sufficiently established a reasonable suspicion that he had been involved in the shooting detected by the “Shot Spotter.” Specifically, the circumstances cited by the Court included: 1) the data received from the “Shot Spotter” itself, which established that a shot had been fired, indicating the likely occurrence of a crime; 2) Raglin’s close proximity, spatially and temporally, to the location identified by the technology; 3) Raglin’s evasive behavior when the police arrived; 4) Raglin’s strange act of jumping out of his vehicle just as the police officer activated his lights; and 4) the occurrence of these events in a high crime area.

Lastly, in a footnote, the Superior Court commented that future cases will be circumstantial-dependent as opposed to ruling that the Shot Spotter technology will carry the entire weight of reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause assessments.

Specifically, the Court noted:

In the future, unique circumstances may call into question the value of “Shot Spotter” data for this purpose, and its probative weight may change from case to case. A suspect’s temporal and spatial relationship to the time and location identified by a “Shot Spotter” appears crucial to the significance of such information for identification purposes. The “Shot Spotter” does provide strong evidence that a crime has likely occurred, independent of the part it might play in identifying suspects; however, even that conclusion must come with a caveat that it is circumstance-dependent.

In Raglin’s case, the Superior Court concluded that the trial court’s order denying Raglin’s motion to suppress was legally sound and supported by the factual record.


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