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Penn. high court: Pulling over to side of road is not suspicious

If you pull over to the shoulder of the interstate, is that automatically suspicious? The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled that it is not. Moreover, the court threw out a drunk driving conviction based on the officer believing it was.

The incident occurred on a late evening in June 2013. A Pennsylvania state trooper noticed a car pulled over on the shoulder of I-79 and decided to investigate. When he pulled up alongside the car with his emergency lights blazing, the trooper says, the driver gave him a "hundred mile stare," which only increased his suspicion. He asked the driver whether she needed help, but she said she was fine. She appeared to be entering information into her GPS navigation system.

Nevertheless, the trooper decided to question the driver. He asked her where she was going, and she said she was headed to New York for a dragon boat race. At that point, the trooper stepped out of his cruiser and approached the woman's car. At the same time, a second trooper pulled up behind the civilian vehicle.

During questioning, the woman made some mildly curious statements, such as that she was the CEO of five companies and had two sons at a military college. She said she was afraid of the trooper and concerned that her sons would get in trouble because she had been pulled over. The trooper determined that her eyes appeared glossy and she seemed "confused."

He asked her to step out of the car for field sobriety tests and a portable breath test. A third trooper arrived to supply the breath testing machine. By this point, the woman was crying and incoherent. The trooper arrested her for DUI, transported her to police barracks and got her a blood test. That test, which was apparently done without a warrant, determined that she was well above the blood alcohol limit.

The question before the court was whether the trooper had any right to continue his inquiry after confirming the woman needed no assistance.

The high court determined that this was, in essence, a traffic stop and the same rules applied. Specifically, any time the police keep someone from going on their way, their actions must be reasonable and based on specific, objective, articulable facts that indicate an emergency exists or that a crime has been committed. They ruled that a car being pulled to the side of the road does not qualify.

Whenever the police stop, hold or pull you over, the Fourth Amendment protects you if their actions were unreasonable. The evidence in your case may be suppressed. The best way to protect your rights is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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