Commonwealth v. Stilo, 2016 PA Super 91
Stilo appealed the denial of his motion to suppress physical evidence. A narcotics officer received a complaint about drug activity at the house in question, and determined that the owner had been previously arrested for narcotics offenses. After setting up surveillance in the afternoon, he observed Stilo arrive, park, and enter the property’s basement. Three minutes later, Stilo emerged from the property and got back in his car, where he remained for a few minutes.
While Stilo was in his car, another individual arrived at the property. The same thing happened: he entered the basement of the property for a few minutes, came back out and got in his car. Stilo and the other individual left the area simultaneously. The police stopped Stilo. He turned over a small bag of marijuana, but a subsequent search revealed a couple dozen opioid pills.
Stilo argued that these facts — an anonymous tip regarding a residence, no observed transaction, and circumstances that were consistent with innocent behavior or coincidence — did not lead to reasonable suspicion justifying the stop.
The Superior Court affirmed the denial of suppression. The experienced narcotics officer that received the anonymous tip established a nexus between the home and drug dealing by discovering that its owner had previously been arrested on drug charges. The near-simultaneous suspicious behavior of two people entering the basement and exiting the property within three minutes, when viewed through the eyes of a trained officer justified his belief that drug transactions occurred.
Stilo’s claim that police should have further developed their suspicions was foreclosed by precedent: the possibility of doing so does not make their observations insufficient. Moreover, it is not error to determine that reasonable suspicion exists even if the circumstances are equally consistent with innocent behavior. Viewing the evidence in light of an officer’s experience might convert otherwise innocent conduct into reasonable suspicion.
Judge Ott’s opinion can be found here.