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Pennsylvania Superior Court Holds DUI Arrest Supported by Reasonable Suspicion

A driver appealed from the March 3, 2016 judgment of sentence the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County, finding him guilty of DUI. On appeal, he argued that the trial court erred in finding the arresting officer had a reasonable suspicion to believe he was involved in criminal activity. The Pennsylvania Superior Court disagreed and affirmed the judgment.

On June 24, 2015, an officer was on patrol with his car window down. It was around 1 a.m. when he saw a beige Buick parked in front of 920 High Street. As he drove past, he saw a man talking to the driver and heard a woman yelling and screaming. The woman was seated in the front passenger seat and seemed to be yelling at someone inside the car.

The officer circled the block and approached the car to make sure everything was okay. As he pulled up behind the vehicle, without lights, three people fled:  the male talking to the driver, the female passenger who had been yelling, and a male who had been sitting in the back seat.

The officer did not even have time to exit his car before everyone started leaving. As soon as the three people left, the car also began pulling away, and the car stopped about 100 feet from where it had been.

The officer approached the driver to inquire about the female who had been yelling, and upon contact, he noticed a strong odor of alcohol. He asked the driver if he had been drinking, and the driver indicated he had two beers earlier that evening. Other officers arrived between five and 10 minutes later, and the officer explained to them what had happened.

He performed field sobriety tests, on which the driver performed unsatisfactorily, so he was placed under arrest for suspicion of DUI. The subsequent blood test indicated a BAC of .171, as well as traces of THC.

The officer never spoke with the female in the car, but the driver admitted that she had been yelling at him.

On appeal, the driver argued the officer did not have a reasonable suspicion to believe he was involved in criminal activity. Accordingly, he argued the officer illegally stopped him.

The appeals court adopted the lower court’s reasoning in finding that a reasonable suspicion existed. Specifically, the lower court reasoned that part of a patrol officer’s duty is to investigate suspicious activity. A loud argument, in the middle of the night, in which everyone leaves when police approach is certainly a situation in which a reasonable man would be suspicious of criminal activity.

The officer even testified that he was concerned that the criminal activity was a domestic violence situation. While that was not ultimately what occurred, it was enough for him to stop the vehicle to investigate. He did question the driver about the argument, but as he smelled the odor of alcohol, and the driver admitted to drinking earlier, the investigation quickly turned from a possible domestic violence situation into a DUI investigation.

The court agreed with the trial court’s analysis and conclusion that, under the totality of the circumstances, the officer had a reasonable suspicion to stop the driver.

On appeal, the driver also argued that the officer’s concerns about the safety of the woman were unsupported by his actions following the interaction with the group. He seemed to argue that the officer was not credible because had he been concerned with the woman’s safety, the officer should have pursued the woman, rather than the driver. The appeals court held that the driver was not entitled to relief pursuant to this argument because reviewing courts do not make credibility determinations or reweigh witnesses’ testimony.

He next argued the officer essentially misunderstood or misconstrued the facts leading to the stop. He argued there was nothing suspicious about a woman yelling at somebody else while they were in a stopped vehicle on a public road at 1 a.m., even though the woman fled upon being approached by a marked police vehicle. The appeals court disagreed, reasoning that the mere fact that his actions may have had an innocent explanation did not undermine the officer’s reasonable determination that those facts warranted further investigation.

For these reasons, the appeals court concluded the trial court did not err in denying the driver’s motion to suppress.

Hiring the right attorney can make all of the difference in the world, even if your case seems straightforward or you have no criminal record.  If you find yourself arrested for a DUI, make sure you have a capable attorney on your side. Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney Zachary B. Cooper will be aggressive and will fight to make sure that your rights are protected so that your family and you can move on with your lives. Call (215) 542-0800 for a free consultation to discuss the legal options that may be available to you.

More Blog Posts:

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Remands DUI Conviction in Light of Birchfield, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, March 15, 2017.

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Upholds Defendant’s DUI Conviction, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, March 15, 2017.

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rejects DUI Appellant’s Argument That He Was Merely Sleeping in Car, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, February 16, 2017.