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Pennsylvania Appeals Court Holds Driver’s Arrest Was Supported by Probable Cause

The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently upheld appellant Renaire Lewis’s conviction for DUI despite his argument that the stop violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

In the early morning of July 2014, Lower Pottsgrove Police Sgt. Greenwood was investigating a vehicle (“Vehicle 1”) stopped on Buchert Road, which was blocking the lane. During his investigation, Sgt. Greenwood heard a second vehicle (“Vehicle 2”) driven by Lewis accelerating toward him. Sgt. Greenwood attempted to alert Lewis of the danger by waving his flashlight, but appellant continued to drive toward the obstruction. Lewis then slammed his brakes, causing his tires to screech. As Lewis decelerated, he swerved into the eastbound lane of Buchert Road to avoid colliding with Sgt. Greenwood or Vehicle 1.

After Lewis stopped, Sgt. Greenwood approached his vehicle and observed an unusual number of air fresheners. Sgt. Greenwood then ordered appellant to back up and park behind the unmarked patrol car.

While speaking with appellant, Sgt. Greenwood noticed that he had glassy, blood-shot eyes and slurred speech. Sgt. Greenwood also noticed a strong odor of alcohol emanating from him. Sgt. Greenwood requested that Lewis perform field sobriety tests. Appellant performed poorly on the field sobriety tests, confirming Sgt. Greenwood’s suspicion that appellant was driving under the influence. Lewis was then placed under arrest.

In October 2014, appellant was charged with DUI–high rate of alcohol, failure to drive at a safe speed, and failure to drive on roadways laned for traffic. On February 4, Lewis filed a motion to suppress, alleging that Sgt. Greenwood illegally stopped appellant. Following a hearing, the court denied his motion to suppress. In May 2015, the court found Lewis guilty of DUI–high rate of alcohol. He appealed.

On appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania addressed whether the trial court properly denied Lewis’s motion to suppress.

The state argued that Sgt. Greenwood’s stop was supported by reasonable suspicion that appellant violated 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3361 (driving vehicle at safe speed). Lewis countered that Sgt. Greenwood needed probable cause to stop appellant because a traffic stop for failure to drive vehicle at safe speed does not have an investigatory purpose. Appellant further argued that Sgt. Greenwood’s testimony that he initiated the traffic stop to investigate a possible motor vehicle violation established that he lacked the probable cause necessary to stop appellant for a violation of Section 3361. The Commonwealth’s failure to introduce evidence of his speed and the road conditions, appellant argued, further demonstrated that Sgt. Greenwood lacked probable cause to stop him. The appeals court rejected Lewis’s conclusion that the traffic stop was unlawful and violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

Regarding the motion to suppress, the trial court reasoned that while conducting an investigation, Sgt. Greenwood noticed appellant’s vehicle coming towards him, traveling at high speeds. Sgt. Greenwood attempted to get appellant’s attention by waving his flashlight, but was unable to do so. Appellant crossed over the center yellow line to narrowly avoid striking the vehicle obstructing his lane. Due to appellant’s high speed and his inability to safely navigate the obstacle in the roadway, Sgt. Greenwood stopped him for failing to drive at a safe speed. Accordingly, Sgt. Greenwood had probable cause to stop appellant for violating 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3361.

The appeals court held that the record supported the trial court’s sound reasoning. Specifically, the court noted that after Sgt. Greenwood initiated the stop, he observed that Lewis’s eyes were glassy and bloodshot, his speech was slurred, he smelled of alcohol, and there was an unusual number of air fresheners in his car. Sgt. Greenwood subsequently removed Lewis from the vehicle and performed sobriety tests, which he failed. Based on these observations, Sgt. Greenwood concluded that probable cause existed to arrest Lewis for a violation of 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3802. Thus, neither the traffic stop nor Lewis’s arrest for DUI violated his constitutional rights. The trial court properly denied appellant’s motion to suppress the evidence of DUI. Accordingly, the appeals court affirmed.

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More Blog Posts:

Arrested For My First DUI, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, February 12, 2016.