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Pennsylvania Appeals Court Affirms DUI Conviction Resulting From DUI Checkpoint

The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently affirmed a driver’s two-count DUI conviction resulting from a DUI checkpoint.

checkpoint

In September 2013, police officers from the West Hills DUI Task Force conducted a sobriety checkpoint on Steubenville Pike in Robinson Township, Pennsylvania. A sergeant was present at the September 28, 2013 DUI checkpoint on Steubenville Pike in Robinson Township. At 12:25 a.m., he was filling in on the road because the line had become depleted of manpower. At this time, he came into contact with the driver. After introducing himself, he asked for her driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. She initially handed him her Target credit card. While she was obtaining her documentation, he noticed an odor of alcoholic beverages coming from the vehicle and that she had slurred speech. In addition, she admitted that she had a shot and a beer.  The officer then escorted her to the testing area, explained the testing procedure, and handed her over to another officer of the Robinson Township Police Department.

This officer had the driver perform three field sobriety tests:  the HGN test, the walk and-turn test, and the one-legged stand test. Based on the information provided by the other officer and his interaction with the driver, he formed an opinion that she was incapable of safely operating a car. Thereafter, she consented to a blood draw and was found to have a blood alcohol content of .152%.

The driver was charged with two counts of DUI. On March 9, 2015, she filed a pre-trial motion to suppress, alleging that the sobriety checkpoint was unconstitutional and that everything that flowed from the illegal stop should be suppressed. The court denied the motion, and the matter proceeded to a bench trial. The court convicted the driver on both DUI counts and sentenced her to 30 days of Restrictive Intermediate Punishment, six months of non-reporting probation, and fines.

On appeal, she challenged:  (1) the validity of the sobriety checkpoint and the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act (ICA); (2) the constitutionality of the sobriety checkpoint and the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act (MPJA); and (3) the presence of probable cause to arrest her.

Under section 2305 of the ICA, a local government may enter into any intergovernmental cooperation with another local government upon the passage of an ordinance of its governing body. In such cases, ordinances shall contain seven specific criteria outlined in section 2307 of the ICA. In this driver’s case, the Commonwealth conceded and the appellate court agreed that the DUI checkpoint did not comply with the ICA because the 15 municipalities comprising the Task Force did not jointly cooperate by each adopting an ordinance in compliance with sections 2303 and 2305. While Robinson Township had proposed a resolution to participate with the Task Force, that resolution was not ratified and adopted by the other Task Force municipalities, nor did it contain the required criteria of an ordinance under section 2307. However, the court explained, this does not end its inquiry with regard to whether the checkpoint was otherwise valid.

The driver claimed that since the ICA codifies the process that local governmental units must follow when cooperating with each other, it controlled the outcome of this case as well as the legality of all sobriety checkpoints (and all government matters) when officers from outside the primary jurisdiction are utilized. Moreover, she contended that once it is shown that the Commonwealth failed to comply with the ICA, the trial court’s decision that the checkpoint at issue was legally constituted must be reversed, or Article IX, § 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the ICA are rendered meaningless. The appeals court disagreed.

The MPJA, the court explained, only applies to a duly employed municipal police officer who is within this Commonwealth but beyond the territorial limits of his primary jurisdiction. Accordingly, it could not agree with the driver’s claim that Article IX, § 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the ICA would be rendered meaningless and municipal boundaries would be obliterated by applying the MPJA in such limited circumstances as the present case.

The driver also contended that she was not lawfully arrested because the sobriety checkpoint was not authorized under the MPJA. Specifically, she asserted that the MPJA relates only to situations in which a request for assistance is contemporaneous with the commission of a crime. The appeals court disagreed, reasoning that there was no statutory language in the MPJA, specifically section 8953(a)(3), that would impose a “contemporaneous” requirement upon an officer’s request for aid or assistance.

In her final issue, the driver asserted that the officer did not have probable cause to arrest her for DUI. The appeals court disagreed, holding that under a totality of the circumstances, the officer had probable cause to arrest the driver for suspected driving under the influence based on his observations and her performance on the field sobriety tests.

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 can 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 Upholds Defendant’s Resentencing Following New DUI Conviction, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, May 9, 2017.

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rejects Constitutionality Challenge to DUI Statute, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, May 1, 2017.

Pennsylvania Superior Court Holds DUI Arrest Supported by Reasonable Suspicion, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, April 13, 2017.