Photo identification of defendant that was fruit of illegal search of cell phone did not extend to in court identification

Commonwealth v. Santiago, 2017 PA Super 116 (4/20/17)

A police officer encountered Mr. Santiago’s car and deeming the circumstances questionable, walked up the vehicle and asked for identification. Mr. Santiago said he did not have any, and when the officer asked him to get out, he reached for his consol. The officer grabbed him to prevent him from reaching it, and Mr. Santiago began to speed off, causing the officer to fall off the car and his foot to be run over. After receiving medical treatment the officer with other officers returned to the scene where they found a cell phone on the ground. The injured officer picked it up and accessed it without a warrant to ascertain the identity of who owned the phone.  This led to a search of the NCIC data base of one of the names in the phone, and upon retrieval of the picture of Mr. Santiago form NCIC, the officer’s identification of him. Mr. Santiago was arrested and charged with assaulting the officer.

The lower court granted a motion to suppress all evidence found as a result of the search of the cell phone, and the Commonwealth appealed, arguing that even if the search was illegal, the scope of the remedy was too broad. The Court rejected the Commonwealth’s argument that identity evidence is never completely suppressable, but if found that the lower court’s conclusion that an in court identification was irrevocably tainted by the officer’s observation of the phone was not justified by the evidence.  Just because Mr. Sanchez was discovered because of the search of the phone did not mean that absent that search the officer could not otherwise have had the ability to identify the defendant. So while the suppression of the fruits of the search of the phone was upheld, an in court identification of the Defendant by the officer was not.

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