HOLLIDAYSBURG — Criminal charges in two Blair County impaired driving cases are at risk in light of recent court rulings that suppressed evidence based on unwarranted traffic stops.
In one of the DUI cases, Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle ruled that a state trooper did not have sufficient cause to initiate a traffic stop on Sept. 3, 2021, after a Claysburg driver cleared the passenger side wheels of his vehicle to cross a line of fog for nine seconds.
In a second case, Doyle reviewed a video recorded on April 10, 2021 by a Hollidaysburg borough police officer and found it was not good enough to show the officer saw a code violation. off the road, the reason he stopped a motorist in Hollidaysburg who was later charged. with DUI.
Defense attorney Thomas M. Dickey disputed the charges, saying the traffic stops were not warranted. Based on Doyle’s rulings, the evidence supporting the DUI and related charges was suppressed.
Dickey said Thursday he was pleased with both rulings and the time and attention the judge devoted to them.
One of the decisions, however, could be subject to further scrutiny.
In the Hollidaysburg case, Assistant District Attorney Jessica Weil filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider her decision. In this case, Weil wants the judge to call a hearing and take testimony from the police officer who filed the charges. The officer was unavailable to attend a pre-hearing in the case.
Doyle acknowledged that his decision was based solely on a review of the officer’s video with “insufficient evidence” a traffic violation, erratic driving, drunkenness or any criminal activity justifying the arrest of the driver.
Court documents filed by the police officer indicate that the driver did not stop for a traffic light on Allegheny Street, before making a wide right turn onto North Juniata Street.
Doyle said the police officer’s video prevented her from determining whether the driver had crossed a “flawed” yellow light or a red light. As the driver approached the intersection, the judge said it appeared the light was changing from green to yellow. Regarding the driver’s wide turn, the judge expressed no concern that it was a violation.
“The video shows that the police officer had to make a big turn when he rounded the same corner”, wrote the judge in her decision.
Doyle also pointed out in his ruling that the officer reported following the driver west on North Juniata Street and seeing the driver cross the double yellow line and the white fog line on multiple occasions. But those allegations are not visible on the video, the judge said.
In the DUI case involving the Claysburg driver, the state trooper reported seeing the driver heading south on Dunnings Highway, before turning right onto Quarry Road in Greenfield Township. During this time, and aided by a video recording, it was documented that the tires on the passenger side of the vehicle crossed the fog line for nine seconds.
In a June 9 hearing, then-assistant district attorney Ilissa Zimmerman argued that the officer was justified in stopping the driver because his passenger’s two wheels were over the road. fog line for longer than an instant.
Dickey challenged this position by asking the soldier if he had seen any other misconduct and the soldier said no.
In making her decision, Doyle said she considered two appeals court decisions that considered whether police had probable cause to stop a motorist when the only behavior observed was a fleeting transgression.
In a 2001 decision by the state Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Gleason, the court found no evidence that a driver created a safety hazard by momentarily crossing the road berm. In a 2004 decision by the State Superior Court in Commonwealth v. Garcia, that court found that two brief incidents of drifting across the berm line two blocks away were not sufficient cause. for a traffic stop.
Based on these cases and the absence of other violations, Doyle said she would grant the motion to suppress the evidence.
“Nine seconds does not establish probable cause to carry out a traffic stop”, she says.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.