Worgul Law Firm Wins PA Supreme Court DUI Case
Few people would expect their DUI case to travel all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. But that’s exactly what happened to one of our clients charged with aggravated DUI. The trial court convicted her on the basis of a flawed understanding of the law, so we appealed. The Appeals Court repeated the very same error and confirmed her conviction, so we petitioned the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court. After hearing our arguments, PA Supreme Court sided with us on every issue, and demanded that our client get a retrial – a retrial that will likely result in her acquittal.
At Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC, we believe that an initial defeat in your case does not need to be the end of the story. Our Pittsburgh DUI attorneys will fight tirelessly until a fair outcome is obtained. Our advocacy doesn’t only result in benefits to our clients. As a result of our advocacy, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court created new legal precedent that will affect the outcome of Pennsylvania DUI cases for decades to come.
If you’re facing a DUI charge in Pennsylvania, call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC today at (412) 281-2146 for a free consultation of your case.
The Police Arrested our Client for DUI After Offering Roadside Assistance
Our client was charged with aggravated DUI when a police cruiser found her pulled over on the side of the road entering an address into her GPS navigation system. Her conduct was perfectly legal. Although our client did not demonstrate that she needed help, the trooper stopped besides our client’s vehicle with his emergency lights on.
Noticing that our client had “glossy eyes” and a “hundred mile stare,” the trooper motioned for our client to roll down her window. She complied. The trooper asked if she was okay, and she answered that she was fine. Nonetheless, the trooper parked his cruiser in front of our client to continue his investigation.
When the trooper approached our client’s window, her behavior and appearance led him to believe that she might be intoxicated. The trooper asked her to exit the vehicle and submit to field sobriety tests, and eventually a portable breathalyzer test, which she failed. As a result of this investigation, the trooper arrested our client on suspicion of aggravated DUI.
The Police Cannot Use Roadside Assistance as an Excuse for Investigating Crimes
At trial, we argued that the police illegally seized our client. Under the Fourth Amendment, a person can only be seized in a reasonable manner. The police must have a logical suspicion that you have done something wrong in order to legally stop your vehicle and investigate you. In our client’s case, the police never had that suspicion. The trooper just happened to notice our client seemed intoxicated after stopping to offer assistance. Thus, her seizure was unreasonable and she should never have been charged.
The trial court disagreed. According to the court, the police never seized our client, because they were merely trying to help her. If our client wasn’t seized, there was no need to consider our arguments about whether her seizure was reasonable, the trial court argued. The court’s line of reasoning failed to address how a motorist could get arrested if the police didn’t place them in detention first. Despite this logical flaw, the Superior Court, which heard the appeal, agreed with the trial court and confirmed our client’s conviction. Our last resort was to take the case to the Supreme Court, the highest judicial authority in the Commonwealth.
Why Offering Help as an Excuse to Investigate a DUI Is Illegal
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion largely paralleled the reasoning we outlined in our briefs. We argued that our client was seized, and that her seizure was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court agreed with these points, and even adopted the test we suggested for determining when the police might reasonably seize a motorist after offering roadside assistance.
The Supreme Court quoted the case of United States v. Mendenhall (1980), which states that a person is seized “only if, in view of all the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” The court agreed that the trooper seized our client because when he pulled up with his emergency lights on, a reasonable person would not have believed they were free to leave at that point.
At our suggestion, the Supreme Court adopted a reasonableness test similar to the one used in Montana for determining when a seizure might be justified by officers engaging in “community caretaking.” Under the test, such a seizure might be reasonable where:
- The police officers can point to specific facts that reasonably suggest the driver is in need of assistance
- The police must actually help the driver and not actively engage in the detection, investigation, or seizure of criminal evidence (but if they see something illegal, they may take action)
- The level of intrusion must be proportional with the need for assistance
- Once the driver is no longer in danger, the police must let them go
Under this test, what the trooper did to our client was unreasonable. Her vehicle did not appear to be in distress. Her hazard lights were off. And once our client stated that she was fine, the trooper should have moved on. If he really wanted to stop and investigate our client, he should have followed her once she got back on the road. He could have legally pulled over our client if he later observed her swerving or running a red light.
DUI Lawyers Who Don’t Give Up on Their Clients
After losing at trial, and then losing her appeal, many DUI lawyers would have given up on our client. But not the attorneys at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC. We fought for our client by pursuing every possible avenue. Our dedication to our clients’ interests is even stronger when we know the police have overstepped their authority. If you want a strong and uncompromising defense to your charges, contact us at (412) 281-2146 for a free and confidential case consultation.