This Week in the Courts – April 23, 2012

In the PA Supreme Court:

Commonwealth v. AU
The issue addressed in this case was whether an officer has legal authority to approach a vehicle and ask for identification when there has been no evidence of criminal activity or violations of the Vehicle Code. In this case an officer observed a parked vehicle with some young looking people inside.  He thought it was strange for the vehicle to be parked in an empty parking lot and approached to ask for identification.  When the passenger reached into the glove box for his ID, two baggies of marijuana fell out.  The defendant sought to have the drug evidence suppressed.  The Supreme Court found that the officer’s interaction with the passenger was a mere encounter and did not arise to an investigatory detention.
One Justice filed a dissenting opinion which argued that without reasonable suspicion, the officer could not ask for identification, and that once he did, the 4th Amendment was implicated.

Commonwealth v. Wallace
The Court ruled that an anticipatory search warrant violated the U.S. and PA Constitutions because it was not supported by probable cause.  The Court found that the police did not observe any criminal activity involving the defendant or the location before the warrant was issued, and that the police did nothing to try and corroborate the information they received from a confidential informant.  It was only after the warrant was issued that the police set up a controlled buy and then searched the premises.  Thus suppression of the evidence was granted.

Commonwealth v. Rosen
Defendant had two trials. In the first he presented an insanity defense and both the Commonwealth and the Defendant offered testimony of doctors who had examined the Defendant.  The defendant was convicted, but his case was ultimately remanded for a new trial based on an ineffectiveness of counsel claim.  At Defendant’s retrial, he sought to have evidence of his psychological exams excluded under the 5th Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.  The court held that the defendant’s waiver of the psychiatrist-patient privilege at his first trial waived the privilege at the retrial. Thus, the Commonwealth could present the examination results even though he did not raise the insanity defense at the second trial.

In the PA Superior Court:

S.M.C. V. W.M.C.
Husband appealed support order which ordered him to pay support to his wife and to pay a portion of her attorney fees.  Husband argued that Wife’s post-separation marital misconduct entitled him to a defense against support obligations.  Pennsylvania law on spousal support is very clear and directs that married people are liable to each other for support according to each of their abilities.  One exception to this rule is if one of the parties has conducted himself or herself in a manner that would constitute grounds for a fault divorce. The Court found that things which occurred post-separation were not grounds for fault divorce and thus are not a valid defense to support obligations.