This was an appeal out of Allegheny County. The issue presented to the Superior Court concerned the use of “Shot Spotter” technology and its factoring into an analysis of whether there is reasonable suspicion to detain someone.
A Shot Spotter system is technology used to detect gunshots in a particular location. An alert tone comes to the desktop monitor giving an address and a red dot appears, accurate up to within 25 yards of where the gunshot sound emanated from.
In this case, the Shot Spotter pinpointed a gun shot to a location in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, which is known as a high crime area. Police were dispatched and arrived within a minute of the alert. When police arrived at the location, two men were spotted walking down the alley and they separated when they saw police, both getting into separate cars. The police followed both vehicles but eventually lost sight of one. The car the appellant was in eventually pulled over and appellant began to exit his vehicle just as the officer activated his lights. He started walking toward the police vehicle. Consequently, the officer ordered him to stop, put his hands on the back of his vehicle, and a pat down was conducted. In the course of walking up to the stopped vehicle, a handgun was observed in plain view on the dash.
On appeal, appellant argued that there was no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to conduct the pat down. Appellant had likened the Shot Spot system to be like “an uncorroborated anonymous tip,” which cannot, itself, support reasonable suspicion to stop or search. The Superior Court expressed skepticism with this analogy; however, they punted on crafting “a definitive ruling on the degree of reliability of the ‘Shot Spotter’ technology.” The Superior Court held that the pat down was supported by more than just the data obtained from the Shot Spotter—the pat down was justified, the Court reasoned, based upon the appellant’s evasive behavior and his strange act of jumping out of the vehicle.
In a concluding footnote, the Superior Court said this about the Shot Spotter:
In the future, unique circumstances may call into question the value of “Shot Spotter” data for this purpose, and its probative weight may change from case to case. A suspect’s temporal and spatial relationship to the time and location identified by a “Shot Spotter” appears crucial to the significance of such information for identification purposes. The “Shot Spotter” does provide strong evidence that a crime has likely occurred, independent of the part it might play in identifying suspects; however, even that conclusion must come with a caveat that it is circumstance-dependent. For instance, identifying the discharge of a firearm at a shooting range, during business hours, would not be strong evidence of the commission of a crime. Accordingly, we believe the most prudent course of action at this time is to address this new technology on a case-by-case basis, rather than try to anticipate every possible combination of circumstances attendant to its future use.