In re: D.S., No. 17 WAP 2011, 2/21/12 (11 pages)
Investigating a report of a holdup by a young boy that yielded $10, the police, based on the victim’s description, developed a description of suspect and compiled a list of individuals they thought fit. Two plainclothes detectives then sought out one of the youths on the list, D.S. Traveling in an unmarked car, they found D.S. at a park with two friends, and approached the three, instructing them to get their hands in the air and against a gate at a school adjoining the park. A third officer then arrived at the scene ( a footnote in the opinion notes ambiguity in the record regarding whether any or all of the officers were wearing uniforms, but like the lower courts that heard and reviewed the case, assumed that the officers were in plainclothes) in a separate vehicle. D.S. and his companions were patted down and asked their names, ages and addresses. One of D.S.’s friends asked the officers what they had done and why they were being searched, but the officers never identified themselves nor why they were detaining and searching the boys. That same boy also claimed he heard one of the officers say he knew that D.S. had given him a false name, and then saw one of them throw D.S. onto the ground and kick him after he was handcuffed. By this time about 15 people were watching the incident. The officers called for back-up, and D.S. was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and providing false information to law enforcement authorities pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. §4914. At a delinquency hearing, D.S. was adjudicated delinquent of the false information charge only and committed to a juvenile treatment facility.
D.S. appealed. In its opinion sustaining the adjudication, the juvenile court opined that the issue of the sufficiency of the evidence to convict was waived for failure to raise it at trial. The Superior Court, showing no concern for the alleged waiver, said that the totality of the circumstances supported the adjudication. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted D.S.’s petition for allowance of appeal.
The Court first deal with the waiver issue. Noting that if this were a criminal case the sufficiency of the evidence could be challenged for the first time on appeal, concluded that that rule, though not expressly stated in the Pa.R.J.C.P., should be applied to juvenile cases as well. The Court’s reasons included the inapplicability of the PCRA to juvenile proceedings, the optional nature of post-verdict motions in juvenile court, and that review of challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence is a pure question of law over which review is de novo.
On the sufficiency issue, the Court had little trouble. §4914 requires that a police officer identify himself or herself and state that the person is the subject of an official investigation for a violation of the law. The statute is clear of ambiguity. The Court rejected the Commonwealth’s contention that “circumstances” might satisfy the identification and purpose elements of the statutes. D.S., who was adjudicated delinquent and committed to a juvenile facility nearly 19 months to the day of the opinion, is no longer a delinquent.
(This case brings to mind a story told me by my law school criminal law professor who was in the United States Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia at the time the late and fondly remembered knock and announce rule of Sabbath v. United States, 391 U.S. 585 (1963) (hollowed out by Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586 (2006)) was announced. He recalled that FBI agents who opened Mr. Sabbath’s door had in truth announced their purpose and identity, but in those Arcadian days were reluctant to tell the suppression judge the language they used to do so. It is hard for me to read D.S. without wondering how many facts the juvenile court did not hear, given the ambiguities that arise upon a full reading of the opinion. Never mind though— the law marches on.)
The opinion may be found here.
Photograph of Mort Mills as a highway patrolman from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and found at Visual Sociology.