Filed under: Criminal Law by Contributor @ August 2, 2017

On July 21, 2015, a parole agent received an anonymous tip that one of her parolees, Navarro Banks (“Banks”), was in violation of his parole. Upon receiving a single tip, two agents went to Banks’ home. While speaking with Banks on his front porch, the agents did not see any or have any indication of contraband at the residence. Despite the absence of any openly visible contraband, the agents proceeded to question Banks and specifically asked if he had any contraband in his home in violation of his parole. In response, Bank readily admitted that he had synthetic marijuana and a firearm inside his home. Based on this admission, the agents made their way inside Banks’ house and searched the area, where they discovered a hidden firearm and a bag of synthetic marijuana. Following the discovery, the agents then contacted the police, obtained a search warrant and seized the fire arm and synthetic marijuana along with other forms of potential contraband. Immediately thereafter Banks was arrested and charged with a slew of crimes including: possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, and persons not to possess firearms.

Banks then filed a Motion to Suppress, asserting that since the search was based solely upon an uncorroborated anonymous tip, the agents did not have sufficient reasonable suspicion to search his home. As such, Banks moved to suppress any physical evidence obtained by the search because it was “fruit of the poisonous tree”. His motion did not include or allege that he had been illegally detained.

Consequently, the trial court granted Banks’ motion to suppress. The trial court stated that the primary reasoning for the suppression was their finding that the Agents’ questioning at Banks’ home was the functional equivalent of the initiation of an investigative detention. They further explained that the questioning was not a causal “mere encounter” and, instead, that an investigative detention had commenced without the proper evidence or information to properly do so.

The Commonwealth appealed the trial court’s decision to grant Banks’ motion and on June 12, 2017, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania reversed the decision. The Superior Court did not review the merits of Banks’ motion, but instead focused their decision and opinion on the basis upon which the trial court had granted Banks’ motion. In their decision, the Superior Court emphasized that the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure explicitly require that a motion to suppress must absolutely and clearly include all evidence sought to be suppressed and all grounds and facts in support of said suppression. Therefore, since Banks did not assert in his motion (or orally /in writing) that he had been illegally detained and instead alleged that the search was illegal due to a lack of reasonable suspicion, the trial court erred in granting his motion on those grounds. The Superior Court also agreed with the Commonwealth that due to the failure to assert the claim in his motion, the issue had been waived.

Essentially, in this case, the Superior Court articulated that the trial court had reached too far and explicitly limited the basis upon which future motions to suppress may be granted. As a result, it is now clear that if a movant fails to raise or omits a strong and legitimate legal reasoning to suppress, the Commonwealth cannot raise it for them nor can they grant the motion on this basis.

Check out the Banks case here:

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