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Pennsylvania Court Overturns DUI Conviction Due to Illegal Investigatory Stop

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.

Investigatory Search

On appeal, the court reversed. The court stated that under both the federal and state constitution people have the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. As such, the police are required to show reasonable suspicion to justify an intrusive interaction. The court noted that Pennsylvania recognizes three types of interactions between the police and citizens: a mere encounter, an investigative detention, and a custodial detention. The court explained that in determining if an interaction is an encounter or investigative detention, a court analyzes whether, under the totality of circumstances, the person would believe he or she is free to go. In other words, there is no seizure if an officer merely asks a person questions.

Here, the court found that due to the fact the officer blocked in the defendant by parking behind her SUV, activated his patrol car lights, and called for backup, the defendant reasonably believed she was not free to leave. As such, the stop was an investigative detention. The court stated that the officer lacked any reasonable suspicion prior to his interaction with the defendant that would justify an investigative detention. Thus, the court found the stop was illegal, and any evidence obtained during the stop should be suppressed. Accordingly, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Consult a Seasoned Pennsylvania DUI Attorney

If you live in Pennsylvania and are charged with a DUI, you should retain a seasoned Pennsylvania DUI attorney to help you protect your rights. Attorney Zachary B. Cooper will work tirelessly to try and preclude any evidence that should not be admitted against you, in hopes of obtaining a favorable outcome. Mr. Cooper can be contacted at (215) 542-0800 to schedule a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania Holds That The Mistaken Belief That Increased Penalties Will Be Imposed for Refusing to Submit to a Blood Test is Not Sufficient Grounds to Suppress Test Results, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, November 13, 2018