In an apparent call to the Pennsylvania General Assembly to create legislation that would allow police to arrest individuals in a high-crime neighborhoods when they spot a single, isolated transaction of money for unidentifiable objects, in Commonwealth v. Wormley, 2008 Pa. Super. 107 (Pa. Super. 2008) Justice Stevens of the Pennsylvania Superior Court cites lengths of non-binding language from two dissenting opinions in Commonwealth v. Dunlap, 941 A.2d 671 (2007). The opinion states that the court feels “constrained” to hold the evidence should be suppressed, as the court is bound by the Supreme Court’s holding in Dunlap, which has facts virtually identical to this case.
In Dunlap, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that when a police officer observes a single, isolated transaction of money for unidentified objects in a high-crime area, and even when the police officer possessed experience in drug enforcement and drug transactions, that information alone does not rise to the level of probable cause to arrest. The Supreme Court opinion in Dunlap reversed an earlier Superior Court opinion that affirmed a Philadelphia Trial Court’s denial of a motion to suppress evidence where the defendant was observed purchasing narcotics on a street corner. The police in that case observed one transaction, and arrested Dunlap.
The problem with allowing police officers to arrest people after viewing a single transaction like that mentioned above is that it would be permitted in neighborhoods that the police officers themselves call high-crime neighborhoods. That desigation of “high-crime” is very self-serving in these cases, and most all the neighborhoods that the police call “high-crime” are occupied by minorities, which creates a disparate application of the finding of probable cause. In addition, allowing police to arrest for a single transaction lets the police arrest for a transaction that, on its face, appears to be innocuous. What if someone is exchanging change, cigarettes, or CDs? You wouldn’t see officers running up to people in Center City Philadelphia for making change for parking meters would you? Don’t people get cigarettes from others and offer a quarter?