Published on:

Pennsylvania Court Analyzes Probable Cause in DUI Cases

Under recent changes in Pennsylvania law, people can consume marijuana for medical purposes in certain circumstances. They can nonetheless be charged with marijuana-related DUI crimes if they drive while under the influence of marijuana, though. Thus, as discussed in a recent Pennsylvania opinion issued in a DUI case, the smell of marijuana can be a factor in determining whether probable cause exists for questioning a DUI suspect. If you are charged with a DUI offense, you should talk to a Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer about what arguments you may be able to set forth in your defense.

Facts of the Case

It is alleged that in August 2021, a police officer observed the defendant driving at 77 miles per hour in a 65 miles per hour zone on a state highway. The officer, after stopping the defendant, detected a strong odor of burnt and raw marijuana, leading to further investigation. The defendant, who possessed a medical marijuana card, admitted to smoking marijuana prior to the stop. Subsequent field sobriety tests revealed impairment, and the defendant was arrested, leading to a blood draw at a hospital.

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with two counts of driving under the influence (DUI) of a controlled substance and one count of exceeding maximum speed limits. Prior to trial, he moved to suppress the evidence obtained following the traffic stop, challenging the lawfulness of the police officer’s actions leading to the arrest. The trial court denied his motion, and he was subsequently convicted and sentenced. He then appealed the trial court’s denial of his suppression motion.

Probable Cause in DUI Cases

On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court ruling. In doing so, the court identified three tiers of police interactions: mere encounters, investigative detentions, and custodial detentions, each requiring increasing levels of suspicion. The court highlighted that during a traffic stop, officers may ask questions to determine identity and gather information relevant to the stop.

The court noted that pursuant to recent Pennsylvania case law that acknowledged the impact of the Medical Marijuana Act on marijuana possession and emphasized that the odor of marijuana, although not a standalone factor, remains relevant in evaluating the totality of circumstances for probable cause.

In applying these principles to the defendant’s case, the court found that the police officer’s initial stop was valid due to speeding. The subsequent detection of the odor of marijuana, coupled with the defendant’s possession of a medical marijuana card and admission to recent marijuana use, provided reasonable suspicion for the police officer to detain the defendant for field sobriety tests. The court underscored that, despite the legality of marijuana possession for medical use, driving under the influence of a controlled substance, including marijuana, remains illegal.

Based on the totality of the circumstances, including the defendant’s performance on field sobriety tests, the police officer had probable cause to arrest the defendant for suspicion of DUI. Consequently, the court affirmed the judgment of the sentence, upholding the defendant’s conviction and the denial of the suppression motion.

Meet with a Skilled Pennsylvania DUI Defense Attorney

If you are faced with accusations that you committed a DUI offense, it is important to understand your rights, and you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Attorney Zachary B. Cooper is a skilled Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer, and if you engage his services, he will fight to help you seek the best legal outcome available under the facts of your case. You can contact him for a confidential and free meeting by filling out the online form or calling (215) 542-0800.