Commonwealth v. McAliley
2007 PA Super 55, ____A.2d____
Decided: March 5, 2007
∑ The Superior Court upheld admissibility of the evidence because the officers had exigent circumstances to perform a warrantless search of a home.
On July 25, 2004, several officers were conducting surveillance in the middle of the afternoon. An officer saw McAliley and two other men standing in front his residence during the surveillance. While the men were in front of the house, the officers watched several people approach McAliley and hand him money. McAliley then placed the money in his pocket and gave the people a small bag from his other pocket. After those people were out of sight from the three men, officers stopped each person and found bags of crack cocaine on each person.
About thirty minutes after police started to watch the three men, McAliley went inside his residence and the two men continued to be approached by several people. When McAliley returned, another man told the three men to shut everything down. At this point, McAliley walked back into his residence and shut the door. Officers then approached his residence and entered the residence through three unlocked doors. The officers arrested McAliley in the front room near the entrance of the house. Thirty packets of crack cocaine and $900 were seized during a search of McAliley and he then told the officers where to find more drugs in his bedroom. The officers found 10.8 grams of cocaine in his bedroom.
At trial, McAliley moved to suppress the evidence claiming that it was an illegal search. The lower court denied his motion and McAliley was later convicted of drug possession and possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance. He appealed his conviction to the Superior Court.
The Superior Court started by stating that warrantless searches are presumed to be unreasonable. However, a warrantless search may be conducted if there are exigent circumstances for the search. The Court then looked at the 10 factors laid out in Commonwealth v. Walker, 836 A.2d 978 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2003), to determine if exigent circumstances existed in this case. Those factors are: (1) gravity of the offense; (2) reasonable belief that suspect is armed; (3) clear showing of probable cause; (4) strong showing that suspect is in premises; (5) likelihood that suspect will escape; (6) peacefulness of entry; (7) time of entry; (8) whether officer was in hot pursuit of felon; (9) likelihood of destruction of evidence; and (10) danger to police or others.
The Court stated that all of the factors do not need to be present, and that there were sufficient factors in this case to permit a warrantless search. The officers had probable cause to believe that the suspect was selling crack cocaine, where the evidence could be easily destroyed in the suspectís house. The search also occurred after the officers saw the suspect enter his home and the officers peacefully entered the home during the middle of the afternoon. Based on these factors, the Court held that exigent circumstances existed to permit a warrantless search.