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Pennsylvania Appeals Court Upholds Defendant’s DUI Conviction

A defendant appealed from a judgment of sentence imposed in March 2016, after he was found guilty of two counts of DUI-controlled substance and one count of failing to drive on the right side of a roadway. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed his conviction.

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On January 11, 2015, at approximately 1:50 a.m., two Pennsylvania State Troopers were driving in the Canandohta Lake area. One of them was driving south on Lakeview Drive when he observed the defendant’s car approaching him. The officer testified that he saw that the defendant’s vehicle was somewhat in his lane of travel and that as the two vehicles approached each other, the defendant’s vehicle slowly moved back into its proper lane. The officer then turned left into a private driveway, backed out onto Lakeview Drive, and proceeded northbound to follow the defendant. He testified that he decided to follow the defendant based on the observation that he was not driving in his lane.

When the defendant’s vehicle again came into view, it was completely stopped in the road with its brake lights on. The car remained stationary for a substantial period of time. A review of the video of the incident shows that when the defendant’s vehicle comes into the frame, its brake lights are on, and the vehicle appears to be stopped for approximately 17 seconds. The vehicle did not even have its hazard lights on.

The troopers pulled up behind the defendant’s vehicle. One of them said that he could not read the vehicle’s license plate because it was obstructed by snow. The defendant then released his brakes, proceeded slowly for a short distance, and then turned on his right turn signal. A traffic stop was then initiated. The defendant turned down a nearby road on the right and stopped his vehicle in compliance. An officer testified that he initiated the traffic stop due to his failure to remain in his lane and out of concern for the safety of the defendant, the troopers, and other drivers.

The defendant testified that he believed the troopers were going to pull him over either because his wife may have called the police on him because of their argument, or maybe his next door neighbor called the police about the noisy argument. That is why, he testified, he was stopped in the road when the cruiser approached him from behind.

In May 2015, the defendant filed an omnibus pre-trial motion to suppress the evidence. Specifically, he argued that the troopers lacked both reasonable suspicion and probable cause to stop his vehicle. In September 2015, the suppression court denied the defendant’s motion, concluding that (1) the troopers had probable cause to stop him for violating section 3301(a) of the motor vehicle code (driving on the right side of the road), and (2) the troopers possessed reasonable suspicion to investigate him for DUI.

The defendant was found guilty of the aforementioned charges following a January 2016 bench trial. In March 2016, he was sentenced to 72 hours to six months of incarceration.

On appeal, he argued that the suppression court erred when it denied his motion for suppression of evidence based upon the opinion that the Commonwealth had probable cause and reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle.

Specifically, the defendant argued that the officer could not have had probable cause to stop him for failing to drive on the right side because the roadway in question had no marked center lanes and no shoulder off the roadway, it was completely snow-covered with snow banks, and both vehicles passed each other without incident or hazard, since both vehicles were traveling slowly and also slowed their speed to pass each other.

The appeals court first explained that the statute governing driving on the right side of the roadway provides, in relevant part:  “Upon all roadways of sufficient width, a vehicle shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway.” Since an investigation following the traffic stop would have provided the officers with no additional information as to whether the defendant was not driving on the right side of the roadway, probable cause was necessary to initiate the stop.

The officer testified that he initiated a stop of the vehicle after he had to pull over to the side of the road to let the defendant go by when he was driving in the opposite direction on this two-lane road. The defendant’s argument for deviating from section 3301 largely amounted to offering a series of excuses for this action. However, his vehicle had crossed substantially into oncoming traffic in violation of section 3301. Moreover, his driving posed an actual safety hazard because the troopers’ vehicle had to pull over to let him pass.

For these reasons, the appeals court concluded the lower court did not err in determining that the officer possessed probable cause to stop the defendant. The court affirmed the judgment.

Hiring the right attorney can make all of the difference in the world, even if your case seems straightforward or you have no criminal record.  If you find yourself arrested for a DUI, make sure you have a capable attorney on your side. Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney Zachary B. Cooper will be aggressive and will fight to make sure that your rights are protected so that your family and you can move on with your lives. Call (215) 542-0800 for a free consultation to discuss the legal options that may be available to you.

More Blog Posts:

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rejects DUI Appellant’s Argument That He Was Merely Sleeping in Car, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, February 16, 2017.

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Vacates Illegally Enhanced DUI Sentence, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, February 3, 2017.

Pennsylvania Superior Court Finds Error in Defendant’s Conviction of Three Counts of DUI for Same Conduct, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, January 4, 2017.