Articles Posted in Motion to Suppress

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Under Pennsylvania and federal law, a police officer cannot detain a person without a warrant unless the officer has probable cause. This has been interpreted to mean that an officer cannot stop a vehicle unless the officer observes the driver of the vehicle committing a violation of the Vehicle code or another offense. If a vehicle stop is unconstitutional, any evidence found during the stop should be deemed inadmissible. While some violations clearly provide probable cause for making a vehicle stop, in other cases, it is less clear whether probable cause exists. Recently, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania analyzed whether a police officer had probable cause to stop a vehicle for failing to use a turn signal, in a case where the stop resulted in a DUI charge.  If you are facing Pennsylvania DUI charges and you believe the police lacked probable cause to stop you it is in your best interest to speak with a skilled Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney about your case.

Facts Regarding the Traffic Stop

Allegedly, the defendant was exiting a shopping center parking lot by turning onto a roadway. The defendant failed to use a turn signal prior to turning and was subsequently stopped by a police officer due to the failure to use a turn signal. When the officer was questioning the defendant, the officer reported that he noticed that the defendant was exhibiting signs of intoxication, including uncontrollable laughter, difficulty following instructions, slurred speech, and a strong odor of alcohol. The defendant underwent field sobriety testing, which he failed. He was ultimately charged with DUI-general impairment and DUI-highest rate of alcohol.

It is reported that prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the officer lacked probable cause to stop his vehicle because a turn signal is not required when turning from a parking lot onto a roadway. The court granted the defendant’s motion, after which the Commonwealth appealed.
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Under the rights afforded by both the Pennsylvania and Federal constitution, the police cannot subject people to unreasonable searches. Pennsylvania recognizes different types of encounters between the police and citizens, including an investigatory search. As recently discussed in a case in which the Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned a DUI conviction if the police conduct an investigatory search of a person without a reasonable justification of the search, any evidence obtained during the search should be suppressed. If you were charged with a Pennsylvania DUI following an investigatory stop, you should consult a skilled DUI defense attorney to discuss what evidence the State may be able to introduce against you.

The Defendant’s Search and Arrest

Reportedly, a police officer was doing a check of local businesses that were closed for the day, looking for suspicious activity. He observed an SUV enter the parking lot of one of the businesses and pull into a parking space. He pulled his patrol vehicle behind the SUV and activated the red and blue cruise lights. When he approached the vehicle, he observed an odor of alcohol on the defendant and detected that she seemed impaired. He called for backup, and when he looked up the defendant’s driver’s license information, learned her license had been suspended due to a DUI. The defendant failed her field sobriety test and underwent chemical testing.

The defendant was subsequently charged with DUI – general impairment, DUI – highest rate of alcohol, and driving while her license was suspended. Prior to the trial, she filed a motion to suppress any evidence that was obtained during the search on the grounds that the search was illegal. Her motion was denied and she was convicted on all counts, after which she appealed.

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The Supreme Court’s holding in Birchfield v. North Dakota, continues to affect how Pennsylvania DUI cases are prosecuted. In Birchfield, the Supreme Court held that police officers could not subject DUI suspects to warrantless blood tests or impose increased criminal penalties for refusing a blood test. Before the Birchfield ruling, Pennsylvania DUI suspects were advised that they would face enhanced criminal penalties if they refused blood tests. Those warnings, which were known as the DL-26 form, were modified post-Birchfield to remove language warning of increased criminal penalties. The new form, DL-26B, however, warns of the possibility of increased civil penalties for failing to submit to a blood test, which has led to confusion among DUI suspects as to what penalties may be imposed for failing to submit to the test.

Recently, in Commonwealth v. Miller, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that police officers do not have an affirmative duty to advise a DUI suspect they will not face enhanced criminal charges if they refuse a blood test. As such, if a DUI suspect voluntarily consents to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test, the results of the test are admissible, regardless of the suspect’s belief that he will face more severe penalties if he refuses to submit to the test.

In Miller, the suspect was arrested under the suspicion of DUI and then read the revised DL-26B form, which no longer includes warnings of increased criminal penalties for failing to submit to a blood test. The suspect, who had previously been arrested for DUI and read the prior DL-26 form, believed he would received criminal penalties for failing to submit to the blood test and therefore consented to the test. At his trial, the suspect filed a motion to suppress evidence of his blood alcohol concentration test results, arguing his consent was invalid because, based on his prior experience, he believed he would face criminal penalties if he did not submit to the test. The trial court granted the suspect’s motion and the Commonwealth appealed. On appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that the suspect’s subjective belief did not provide grounds for the suppression of the blood alcohol concentration test results.