Pennsylvania v. Mathis

This discretionary appeal relates to the authority of parole agents to detain and frisk a non-parolee visitor while performing a routine check at a parolee’s home. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court also granted review to address whether reasonable suspicion existed to justify the seizure and frisk in this instance. In 2013, Pennsylvania Parole Agents Michael Welsh and Gregory Bruner conducted a routine home visit to the residence of parolee Gary Waters. Agent Welsh characterized the neighborhood as a “high crime” area. Waters invited the agents into the home, where they immediately recognized the strong odor of marijuana, which increased as they continued through the home. While Agent Welsh dealt with Waters, Agent Bruner maintained visual contact with Appellant Darrin Mathis. Agent Bruner alerted Agent Welsh that Appellant “seemed pretty nervous.” When Appellant began walking to another room, he continued to hold a jacket to his side in a “protecting type of grip” while also turning away from the agent, which revealed a bulge in the jacket. These observations caused Agent Welsh to have concerns regarding the agents’ safety. He then asked Appellant if he could pat him down for safety reasons. Appellant refused, at which time Agent Welsh again noticed the bulge, described as the size of a cigarette pack or wallet, which further raised Agent Welsh’s suspicions that Appellant may be secreting contraband or a weapon. Agent Welsh reached out to the bulge and felt what he believed was the handle of a firearm, seized the jacket and pulled it forcefully from Appellant, throwing it to the ground. Appellant was then handcuffed and patted down. Thereafter, Agent Welsh noticed a bag of marijuana on the floor between Appellant’s feet, while Agent Bruner recovered a handgun from the jacket. A local police officer reported to the residence, and Appellant admitted to ownership of the weapon and drugs. A criminal history check revealed that Appellant was prohibited from possessing a firearm. The officer arrested Appellant and charged him with possessory offenses of a prohibited firearm, a small amount of marijuana, and drug paraphernalia. Appellant filed a pretrial motion to suppress the physical evidence and his statement to police, asserting that parole agents have no statutory authority over non- offenders and that Agent Welsh did not have reasonable suspicion to detain and frisk him. The trial court denied Appellant’s motion to suppress. Following a stipulated bench trial, Appellant was convicted of all charges and sentenced to thirty-two to sixty-four months’ imprisonment. He appealed to the Superior Court. The Supreme Court determined that in light of the suspicion of criminality, the officer’s actions did not violate Appellant’s constitutional rights and affirmed his conviction. View "Pennsylvania v. Mathis" on Justia Law