Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its decision in Commonwealth v. Cost, 2020 WL 354975 (39 EAP 2018), which involved “whether a seizure has occurred during a police-citizen encounter [as a result] of an officer’s retention of an individual’s identification card. The question distills to whether a reasonable person would feel free to ignore the police presence and proceed about his business while, amongst the other circumstances presented, the person is questioned by police as an officer continues to hold his identification and conducts a warrant check.”
As the Court declared, “[w]hile this case does not call for us to consider the adoption of a bright-line rule…We do agree with Appellant, however, that the retention by police of an identification card to conduct a warrant check will generally be a material and substantial escalating factor within the totality assessment” of whether the encounter constitutes a “mere encounter” or an “investigatory detention,” the later of which, requires reasonable suspicion.
The Court went on to hold that “[c]oupled with other relevant factors in the case, we conclude that the officer’s or his partner’s retention of Appellant’s identification card to conduct a warrant check — as he was asked if there was anything in his backpack that the officer needed to know about — was sufficient to signify to a reasonable person that he was not free to proceed about his business.” Thereafter, it concluded that “as found by the suppression court, that he was indeed seized” and therefore, since there was an absence of reasonable suspicion at that time, the suppression of the later found contraband was proper.
The concurring opinion of Justice Wecht, joined by Justice Donohue – which would go further than the Majority Opinion and is, in my opinion, a true bastion of civil rights that deserves to be read – can be found here and the dissenting opinion of Justice Mundy can be found here.
It is truly refreshing to see such pro-rights decisions being rendered by our Supreme Court. Many may remember the more recent decision by the PA Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Hicks, where the Court held that the mere open or concealed carrying of a firearm does not constitutes reasonable suspicion of a crime.
If you or someone you know has had their constitutional rights violated by the police retaining your identification in the absence of reasonable suspicion, contact Prince Law Offices, P.C. today to discuss YOUR rights and legal options.