COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA v. ANGEL ROMERO

ResetAA Font size: Print

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee v. ANGEL ROMERO, Appellant

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee v. WENDY CASTRO, Appellant

J-40A-2017

    Decided: April 26, 2018

Laurence Anthony Narcisi III, Esq., for Appellant. Lawrence Jonathan Goode, Esq., Alison Jo Guest, Esq., Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, for Appellee.

CONCURRING AND DISSENTING OPINION

Although I concur in much of its reasoning, I write separately to distance myself from the following aspects of the lead opinion: (1) its continual reference to the relevant language from Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980), as “the Payton dictum,” and its subsequent treatment of that language; and (2) its ultimate conclusion the Fourth Amendment requires police to obtain a search warrant every time they wish to search a residence for the subject of an arrest warrant. I also dissent from the mandate of the lead opinion, which remands this case to the suppression court for further proceedings, as I would simply reverse the order of the Superior Court and reinstate the order of the suppression court by holding the Fourth Amendment rights of appellants Angel Romero and Wendy Castro were violated when Agent Finnegan entered their home without a search warrant in an attempt to execute an arrest warrant for Earnest Moreno. See Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204 (1981).

In Payton, the United States Supreme Court made the following pronouncement: “an arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within.” Payton, 445 U.S. at 603. Although this was not the ultimate holding of Payton, the High Court has since relied repeatedly on that language to resolve cases involving the execution of arrest and search warrants. See Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 610-611 (1999); Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325, 330 (1990); Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692, 704-05 (1981). Furthermore, lower courts have recognized these subsequent decisions transformed the Payton pronouncement from dictum “into a tenet of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.” United States v. Vasquez-Algarin, 821 F.3d 467, 472 (3d Cir. 2016). While the lead opinion cites to these later decisions and seems to recognize their import, see Opinion, slip op. at 2-3 n.1, its treatment of the language does not acknowledge it as controlling law. Instead, the opinion continually refers to it as “the Payton dictum” and even states the language is “constitutionally suspect.” Id. at 51. Respectfully, I am constrained to distance myself from this negative characterization.

I must also distance myself from the lead opinion's ultimate conclusion which essentially would create a new federal constitutional requirement that police obtain a search warrant every time they wish to search a residence for the subject of an arrest warrant. Although the opinion includes a cogent discussion of Fourth Amendment principles and makes a compelling argument, in my view the matter can be resolved without creating a new rule of constitutional law. I would rely instead on the test devised by the federal courts in cases where there is a question regarding whether Payton or Steagald controls. See United States v. Gay, 240 F.3d 1222, 1226 (10th Cir. 2001) (Steagald (rather than Payton) controls where officer executing arrest warrant did not have reasonable belief arrestee lived in the residence).

As I agree with the lead opinion's analysis of whether “reasonable belief” means probable cause or something less, see Opinion, slip op. at 38-43 (finding reasonable belief must mean probable cause), in my view, the critical inquiry in this case is whether Agent Finnegan had probable cause to believe Moreno resided in appellants' home. Rather than answering this question, the lead opinion instead describes a new rule, rendering the question irrelevant.1

To resolve this appeal, I simply would hold the information relied on by Agent Finnegan was insufficient to establish probable cause to believe Moreno lived in appellants' residence. Agent Finnegan relied on the following factors as a basis for his belief Moreno lived at their home on August 26, 2011: (1) the address appeared on Moreno's driver's license, which expired in 2007 — four years prior to the search; (2) Moreno provided the address to police in 2009 — two years prior to the search; (3) Moreno used the address when signing out of his halfway house in 2011; and (4) the investigation revealed members of Moreno's family resided at the address. I agree with the suppression court that the only documented evidence provided by Agent Finnegan — the information from Moreno's expired driver's license and his 2009 arrest — was stale because it failed to show Moreno used the address at the time of the search or at any time after 2009. See Suppression Court Op., 7/10/2015, at 6-7. I also agree with the suppression court's implicit rejection of the unsupported and unreliable evidence provided by Agent Finnegan, namely the undocumented information from Moreno's halfway house and Agent Finnegan's uncorroborated testimony regarding Moreno's familial connection to the address. See Id. at 7 (“No evidence was produced to show that the address was still valid for Moreno or that he used that address as his own at any time subsequent to 2009. Further, no evidence was produced to show a relative of Moreno's lived at the address or that Moreno had been seen in or about the residence on [or] near the date the authorities entered the premises.”). As Agent Finnegan lacked probable cause to believe Moreno lived in appellants' residence, Steagald applies and the evidence observed and seized as a result of the warrantless search for Moreno was properly suppressed. Accordingly, I would reverse the order of the Superior Court and reinstate the order of the suppression court.

FOOTNOTES

1.   I further note the parties to this appeal did not advocate for or against the new rule described by the lead opinion, but instead focused their advocacy on whether Agent Finnegan had a reasonable belief that Moreno resided in the home of appellants.

JUSTICE DOUGHERTY

Chief Justice Saylor and Justice Baer join this Concurring and Dissenting Opinion

FindLaw Career Center

    Select a Job Title


      Post a Job  |  Careers Home

    View More