Commonwealth v. Steward
2007 PA Super 46, ____A.2d____
Decided: February 22, 2007
The Superior Court reversed the lower courtís suppression of evidence, obtained pursuant to a wiretap, because the affidavit for the wiretap was sufficient to obtain a wiretap and the Wiretap Act would not permit suppression of the evidence in this case.
In February 2000, a wiretap that was placed on a phone led police to Steward, who was selling drugs to the person that the police had wiretapped. At this point, police obtained a warrant to wiretap Stewardís phone and he was later arrested on drug charges. At trial, Steward motioned to suppress the evidence obtained from the wiretap of his phone and the motion was granted. The lower court based its ruling on the belief that the Commonwealth failed to show that traditional means of investigation had been used and failed, or were likely to fail, or were too dangerous to employ.
The Commonwealth appealed this decision to the Superior Court. The Commonwealthís appeal was based on the fact that suppression is not permitted for the grounds used by the lower court in making its decision and also that there was sufficient evidence to show that traditional means of investigation were used and failed. The Superior Court agreed with the Commonwealth and reversed the lower courtís suppression order.
In looking at the Wiretap Act, the Superior Court noted the 6 circumstances where evidence may be suppressed for non-constitutional violations. Those 6 circumstances are: (1) where the wiretap was made without authorization order from a court; (2) the authorization order was not supported by probable cause; (3) the authorization order is materially insufficient on its face; (4) the interception materially deviated from the means listed in the authorization order; (5) the consent to the interception was coerced; and (6) the interception was made before obtaining a court order.
After looking at those 6 circumstances, the Superior Court held that the lower courtís rationale for suppressing the evidence did not meet any of these circumstances. The Court therefore held that the normal exhaustion of investigative procedures requirement is not included as one of the 6 circumstances mandating suppression of evidence.
The Court then looked at the evidence set forth in the affidavit for the wiretap warrant and held that regardless of the absence of such a requirement, there was sufficient evidence to support the futility of normal investigative methods. Included with the application for the warrant was a 102-paragraph affidavit detailing the police efforts with regards to determining the true supplier of the drugs and the failure to do so by the police. Neither the use of informants nor various surveillance efforts had been able to identify the source of the drugs, despite repeated attempts. Based on this affidavit, the Superior Court held that there was sufficient evidence to support the warrant and the Court reversed the lower courtís suppression of the evidence.