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The "Collective Knowledge" Doctrine and Suppression

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The "collective knowledge" doctrine, sometimes called the "fellow officer rule" allows one officer to possess probable cause and impute it to other officers.

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By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Drug Defense Lawyer, Harrisburg, PA

In a recent decision, the Superior Court addressed an important rule of probable cause to arrest an individual.  In Commonwealth v. Yong, 2015 Pa. Super. LEXIS 407, *13, 2015 PA Super 152 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2015), the Superior Court stated that "The collective knowledge doctrine serves an agency function. When a police officer instructs or requests another officer to make an arrest, the arresting officer stands in the shoes of the instructing officer and shares in his or her knowledge...[A]n arresting officer need not possess encyclopedic knowledge of the underlying facts supporting probable cause. Instead, he or she may rely upon an instruction to arrest from another officer who possesses the required knowledge."

This is an important rule.  It does not allow an officer without probable cause to simply set forth facts and supply them to a magistrate or other officers and allow them to make the arrest.  Here, the arresting officer neither acted at the direction of the "fellow officer" with probable cause, nor did he possess his own independent probable cause.  Therefore, the arrest was held to be unconstitutional and the fruits of the search were not admissible at trial.

The Court specifically refused to adopt the "horizontal collective knowledge" rule. 
Horizontal collective knowledge cases for the general proposition that "the information available to a close group of officers functioning as a team is assessed as a whole."  This is a federal approach not adopted in Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania could be seen only as a vertical or direct knowledge state, where information from one officer has to go directly to another.  Not bits and pieces from a group.

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