Use Your Blinkers

Many of us do not always use our turn signals, even though the Vehicle Code requires that we do so.  Often clients will come into the office after being stopped by the police for nothing more than failing to use a turn signal.  Upon being stopped the client is either under the influence or in possession of something illegal.

On the witness stand police officers will frequently admit that they personally often fail to use their turn signals.  Many cops will admit that they do not always pull over every turn signal offender.  However, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has approved of the police pulling drivers over for turn signal violations alone and if the driver is then found to be committing a more serious crime, the charges will not be dismissed even though the initial stop was for a minor infraction that is not always enforced by the police officer or his department.

In the recent case of Commonwealth v. Brown the Superior Court wrote that a police officer has the authority to stop a vehicle when he or she has reasonable suspicion that a violation of the vehicle code has taken place, for the purpose of obtaining necessary information to enforce the provisions of the code. However, if the violation is such that it requires no additional investigation, the officer must have probable cause to initiate the stop.

What does this mean?  In practice out on the streets it means that the police can pull over any driver they see who does not use his turn signal.  Afterwards the police can and will charge the driver for either the vehicle code violation, or for more serious felonies or misdemeanors if other evidence is discovered during the car stop.  When the case gets to court the police officer may tailor his or her testimony to fit the facts of the case so that the likelihood of having the more serious evidence suppressed, or thrown out, is greatly reduced.

We all know that the police do not usually hit their lights and pull someone over at lunchtime for failure to use turn signals.  However, if you are driving at 2:00 a.m. the chance of getting pulled over for this minor infraction increases greatly.  To protect yourself from “hunch” stops by police on a whim, always use your turn signals, without fail.  Doing so will not only protect you and other drivers on the road, it may also prevent you from being the target of a car stop simply because there is little else to do in the middle of the night.

If you are the target of a police stop and you have been charged with a crime, you need a lawyer who can review the case and put together a defense that will protect you and your drivers’ license.  Give us a call at 215-822-1888 to discuss your case.

Take The Breath Test

The Pennsylvania Implied Consent Law requires that the Department of Transportation suspend the driver’s license of a person who refuses to submit to blood or breath testing, if that person is placed under arrest for Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI/DWI), is requested by the police to submit to chemical testing and refuses to do so. The law says that if blood or breath testing is refused by the driver the testing shall not be conducted, but upon notice by the police officer, PennDOT shall suspend the operating privilege of the person.

The police are authorized to request blood or breath testing when they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the driver is under the influence. “Reasonable grounds” exist when a person in the position of the police officer, viewing the facts and circumstances as they appeared at the time, could have concluded that the motorist was operating the vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. While there is no set list of behaviors that a person must exhibit for an officer to have reasonable grounds for making an arrest, case law has provided numerous examples of what has been accepted as reasonable grounds in the past: staggering, swaying, falling down, belligerent or uncooperative behavior, slurred speech, and the odor of alcohol. The standard for reasonable grounds is not very demanding and the police officer need not be correct in his belief that the motorist had been driving while intoxicated.

In a recent case decided by the Commonwealth (appeals) Court, the Delaware County Court had decided that a driver’s license suspension for refusing to take the breath test was invalid. The Delaware County Court Ordered PennDOT to reinstate the license. PennDOT appealed the decision.

The Commonwealth Court disagreed with the Delaware County Court and reinstated the driver’s suspension. The Court noted that the evidence showed that the driver sped past the police officer’s marked car, failed to signal when changing lanes, became angry and argumentative upon being pulled over, exhibited slurred speech and glassy eyes, confused his registration and insurance card, smelled of alcohol, admitted to drinking alcohol, and refused to submit to field sobriety testing. The Court also noted that while perhaps none of those factors individually would be sufficient to show reasonable grounds, their cumulative impact should allow a reasonable police officer to conclude that the driver operated his vehicle under the influence of alcohol.

The best advice is if a police officer asks you to take a breath or blood test, take the test. Not taking the test will not prevent the police from charging the driver with DUI, as the police can always charge a driver with DUI if the officer has probable cause to believe the driver has consumed alcohol (or drugs) to a degree that prevents the driver from operating their vehicle safely. Not taking the test accomplishes nothing and only leads to an automatic license suspension.

If you do refuse to take the test, call a lawyer immediately. Often the lawyer may be able to act on the driver’s behalf to speak with the police and prevent the refusal from being reported to the Department of Transportation. If you have any questions about a DUI, the refusal to take a blood or breath test, or a license suspension matter, call (215) 822-1888 to speak with Vince Margiotti or Pat McMenamin