Commonwealth v. Arter: Exclusionary Rule and Motions

by | Apr 9, 2017

Although the Pennsylvania Supreme Court handed down the opinion in Commonwealth v. Arter (Pa. 2016) over three months ago, on December 28, 2016, its importance to Pennsylvania jurisprudence, as it relates to the application of the exclusionary rule for unconstitutional searches and seizures at probation and parole violation hearings, makes it worthwhile to talk about so that as many can be aware of it as possible.

In a nutshell, before Arter, Pennsylvania did not apply the exclusionary rule to illegally-obtained evidence at parole and probation violations, applying the same standard as the United States Supreme Court has to the United States Constitution — i.e, no motions to suppress evidence at these hearings.  Now, post-Arter, the exclusionary rule, permitting motions to suppress evidence, apply at these hearings in Pennsylvania under Article 1, Section 8, of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

You can download and review a PDF copy of the opinion here.

Overview of the Case

In Arter, the defendant was summoned to a revocation hearing after his Adult Probation Officer (“APO”) Richard Anglemeyer claimed that Arter had violated a condition of his parole. Anglemeyer was travelling with Officer Darin Bates when he Arter conversing with another individual on the street. Anglemeyer recognized him as one of his parolees. According to Officer Bates, Anglemeyer asked that he stop the vehicle and Anglemeyer approached the Arter.

He introduced himself as his parole officer, gave him his reporting instructions, and then asked if he could search him. Arter declined the search, but Anglemeyer continued on with a pat down search. He found crack cocaine in his pockets and turned the case over to Officer Bates, who then found a second bag, a scale, a cell phone and $21.

Charges Against Arter

Arter was charged with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. Because of the new charges, the parole officer issued a detainer against Arter, and requested a revocation hearing. At a hearing on the new criminal charges, he litigated a motion to suppress evidence, which was granted, because the judge concluded that the search was not supported by reasonable suspicion.

Therefore, any evidence found as a result of the illegal search had to be suppressed from evidence.  The Commonwealth did not appeal the decision, but instead filed a nolle prosequi (a formal withdrawal of the criminal charges).

However, because Arter was on parole, the Commonwealth sought to revoke his parole by way of a parole revocation hearing.  On January 13, 2014, Arter filed a motion to suppress the illegally-obtained evidence from the parole hearing, under the privacy protections of Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

At the parole revocation hearing, the trial judge denied the suppression motion based on long-standing precedent that the exclusionary rule for suppression of illegally-obtained evidence cannot be used to exclude evidence from parole or probation revocation hearings.  Consequently, the trial judge revoked his parole, and resentenced Arter to his back time.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ultimately found that the APO had no reasonable suspicion, therefore making his warrantless search of Arter unjustified. The court also decided that his motion to suppress should have been granted at the parole revocation hearing. The Supreme Court reversed and vacated the order revoking his parole, holding that the warrantless pat-down search was without reasonable suspicion and in violation of Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The Court Rules in Arter’s Favor

The Supreme Court, in ruling in Arter’s favor, looked to the law of sever other states in the application of motions to suppress in the context of parole and probation revocation hearings. Importantly, they noted that Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides greater protections than the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Therefore all of the evidence found during the search had to be suppressed with respect to both the new criminal charges and at the parole revocation proceeding.

The Arter case set new precedent in Pennsylvania jurisprudence in the area of probation and parole revocation hearings. Before Arter, there was no suppression of evidence in parole and probation revocation hearings, which put individuals who were on probation or parole in a difficult position because they could be searched unlawfully and then have no recourse. Arter also was a drastic blow to the Commonwealth’s use of Daisy Kates hearings, which are hearings to revoke parole or probation before a criminal trial occurs on new charges.

Now, people who are facing both new criminal charges and a parole violation hearing can have illegally-obtained evidence suppressed from both proceedings. 

Final Thoughts

Pennsylvania’s constitution provides for the suppression of evidence based on Article 1, Section 8, of its Constitution.  Pennsylvania has a long history of providing greater protections in this area of the law than the United States Constitution.  In addition, the exclusionary rule as applied to the Pennsylvania Constitution is to allow individuals to vindicate their privacy rights (as opposed to the reasoning of the exclusionary rule under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which exists to provide a deterrent to law enforcement from violating individuals constitutional rights). Hopefully, now that evidence can be suppressed in revocation hearings in Pennsylvania, parole and probation officers, as well as police officers, will be better deterred from illegal stops, searches, and seizures, even of probationers and parolees.

*Carlton Pierre, currently a Drexel University undergraduate co-op student, contributed to this blog post.

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