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High stakes, but no dice roll. Supreme Court upholds police encounter at casino that leads to homicide confession and conviction.

July 1, 2017
Commonwealth v. Raghunandan Yandamuri, No. 710 CAP, 2017 Pa. LEXIS 945 (Pa. Apr. 26, 2017)

The plaintiff-appellant appealed his two death sentences for murdering an elderly woman and kidnapping and murdering her ten-month-old grandchild. He filed a pro se appeal, challenging on several grounds, including the denial of his motion to suppress, and alleging that police officers illegally arrested him while he was at the Valley Forge casino. The plaintiff argued that his initial encounter with police officers at the casino was an illegal arrest, lacking probable cause, and, thus, all of his statements—including his handwritten and videotaped confession following their questioning—should have been suppressed. The plaintiff contended that neither he, nor any reasonable person, would have felt free to leave during the police encounter due to the following actions of law enforcement and casino personnel: (1) escorting him from a gaming table to a private hallway restricted to casino employees; (2) precluding him from cashing in his chips; (3) failing to return his casino players card; (4) prohibiting him from driving his own car to the police station; (5) holding his cell phone during the drive to the police station; and (6) denying his requests to call his pregnant wife to answer her incoming call. The Supreme Court rejected the plaintiff’s appeal and affirmed the trial court’s denial of the initial motion to suppress. The Supreme Court affirmed that the plaintiff was not under arrest or in custody because of his voluntary actions, including: (1) agreeing to assist plain clothes police officers when they approached him at the casino about the kidnapping; (2) never requesting to leave during police questioning; and (3) never requesting an attorney during police questioning. Commonwealth v. Edmiston, 535 Pa. 210, 634 A.2d 1078, 1085-86 (Pa. 1994) (whether a person is in custody or under arrest is subject to an objective standard rather than the “strictly subjective view” of law enforcement or defendant); Commonwealth v. Woodard, 129 A.3d 480, 499 n.10 (Pa. 2015) (finding someone is in custody when physically denied freedom of action or reasonably believes that his/her freedom of action or movement is restricted by law enforcement interrogation (citing Commonwealth v. Johnson, 615 Pa. 354, 42 A.3d 1017, 1028 (Pa. 2012)). This case emphasizes that law enforcement officials must be mindful of the environment they create when approaching and speaking with suspects. The investigators’ lawful actions obtained the plaintiff’s confession, protected the conviction and protected the municipality against future civil rights litigation. 


Case Law Alerts, 3rd Quarter, July 2017

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