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Pennsylvania Court Analyzes Whether Failure to Use a Turn Signal is Probable Cause for a Traffic Stop in a DUI Case

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.

Probable Cause Under Pennsylvania Law

In Pennsylvania, an officer must have probable cause to make a constitutional traffic stop. An officer has probable cause to stop a vehicle if he or she observes a traffic violation, even if the violation is minor. In the subject case, the trial court found that the police officer lacked probable causes to stop the defendant, due to the fact that the defendant’s failure to use a turn signal was not a violation of the Vehicle Code. Specifically, the court found that the Vehicle Code delineated between highways, roadways, and trafficways, and noted that the provision of the Vehicle Code requiring the use of a turn signal only applies to roadways. The parking lot where the defendant was turning from was a trafficway, however. Thus, as the defendant was not required to use a turn signal the officer lacked probable cause to stop the defendant. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak with a Seasoned Pennsylvania DUI Attorney About Your Case

If you were charged with a Pennsylvania DUI following a traffic stop it is important to speak with a seasoned Pennsylvania DUI attorney about your case and what evidence the State may be permitted to introduce against you at trial.  Attorney Zachary B. Cooper is a knowledgeable Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney who will aggressively advocate on your behalf, to preclude the State from using any evidence that should not be admitted. You can contact Mr. Cooper at (215) 542-0800 to schedule a confidential and free meeting.