Pennsylvania v. Santiago

The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether a police officer’s initial observations of a defendant at the scene of a crime, followed by a warrantless search of a cellular telephone left at the scene, which lead to the discovery of defendant’s identity, tainted the officer’s subsequent in-court identification of the defendant. Appellant Angel Santiago was pulled over by police for having a heavily tinted windshield in violation of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code. Appellant seemed nervous and avoided eye contact with the officer, who asked for Appellant’s license, registration, and insurance information. Appellant replied that he had no license. When the officer directed Appellant to turn off the vehicle, Appellant did not comply, and began to reach into the center console. The officer immediately reached through the window and grabbed Appellant’s arm to prevent him from retrieving anything from the console. Appellant accelerated the car with half of the officer’s body still inside it. The officer repeatedly requested Appellant to pull over as Appellant sped away. The officer released his grip on the driver, causing the officer to be thrown away from the vehicle and onto the road, and Appellant’s vehicle ran over the officer's right foot. The officer later required medical treatment for his injuries. At no time during the encounter did the officer learn the driver’s name or identity. Police would later retrieve a cell ground from the location of the original traffic stop, where they were able to open it (without warrant) to try to determine the phone's owner. Only two contacts were in the phone: Appellant's and "My Babe." An NCIC database search of Appellant's name lead to a picture of Appellant from a recent prison release. This photograph was shown to the injured officer from the traffic stop, who affirmatively identified the individual whom he pulled over. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the identification made as a result of a warrantless search of the contents of a cell phone rendered such identification tainted and inadmissible. However, a pre-search identification of a defendant could be admissible, if independent of the taint. The officer's out-of-court identification was suppressible. View "Pennsylvania v. Santiago" on Justia Law