The PA Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Banks, No. 922 MDA 2016 (June 12, 2017), holding that the trial court abused its discretion in granting Banks relief on grounds not asserted in his motion to suppress.

PA State Parole agents received an anonymous tip that Banks was violating parole. When they arrived at his home, Banks met them outside the front door. Agents did not see any contraband inside; however, when they asked Banks whether he had anything in his home that would violate his parole, he told them he had a firearm and some synthetic marijuana in the house. (Ed. Note – although “honesty is the best policy,” it can also get you arrested.)

Agents called police who obtained a search warrant and, based on evidence obtained during the search, Banks was arrested and charged with possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, and persons not to possess firearms.

Banks filed a Motion to Suppress the evidence, arguing that that the Agents lacked reasonable suspicion to search his residence since the search was based on an unreliable, uncorroborated, anonymous tip, and, as such, the physical evidence recovered from that search should be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree.

The trial court granted the Suppression Motion. However, it did so on the grounds that the Agents initiated an investigative detention of Banks when they questioned him on the porch. Finding that the interaction was not a “mere encounter,” the trial court concluded that there clearly was a level of “official compulsion to stop or respond” and that there was no credible information to support the investigative detention. The Commonwealth appealed the trial court’s decision.

The Superior Court first noted that the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure require that a motion to suppress state specifically and with particularity the evidence sought to be suppressed, the grounds for suppression, and the facts and events in support thereof.

The Superior Court found that Banks did not argue that he was illegally seized in his motion to suppress; he argued only that police lacked reasonable suspicion to search the residence. Banks also did not amend his motion to raise the seizure issue, either orally or in writing. Had he done so, the Commonwealth stated that it would have presented testimony and argument directed to that issue. However, because Banks failed to argue that he was illegally seized, the Commonwealth had no opportunity to respond to that argument at the hearing.

Accordingly, the Superior Court concluded that the trial committed an abuse of discretion and reversed the Order granting the Motion to Suppress.


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