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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. RICHARD M. DREISBACH (08/27/76)

decided: August 27, 1976.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, BUREAU OF TRAFFIC SAFETY, APPELLANT
v.
RICHARD M. DREISBACH, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Richard M. Driesbach, No. 103 August Term, 1975.

COUNSEL

John L. Heaton, Assistant Attorney General, with him Anthony J. Maiorana, Assistant Attorney General, Robert W. Cunliffe, Deputy Attorney General, and Robert P. Kane, Attorney General, for appellant.

Frederick J. Lanshe, with him Lanshe, Lanshe and Lanshe, for appellee.

Judges Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer and Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Mencer.

Author: Mencer

[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 203]

In the early morning of June 8, 1975, Richard M. Dreisbach was found by police officers lying on the floor of an automobile which had recently crashed into a house on a residential street. After transportation to a hospital for treatment, Dreisbach was arrested and charged with operating a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, a violation of Section 1037 of The Vehicle Code*fn1 (Code), 75 P.S. § 1037. Dreisbach was requested to submit to a chemical test of his breath but refused.

Because of his refusal to take the test and pursuant to Section 624.1(a) of the Code, 75 P.S. § 624.1(a), Dreisbach's operating privileges were suspended for 6 months, effective September 8, 1975. A timely appeal was filed to the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County where, after a trial de novo, Dreisbach's motion to dismiss was granted and his license reinstated. The lower court ruled that the evidence presented by the Commonwealth was insufficient to establish that the arresting officer had reasonable grounds to believe Dreisbach to have been driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor (hereinafter, "reasonable grounds").

The Commonwealth appealed, alleging that Section 624.1(a) of the Code does not limit the Secretary of Transportation's discretion to suspend a driver's license to cases in which the refusal to take the chemical tests is made after an arrest*fn2 by an officer having "reasonable grounds." Secondly, the Commonwealth

[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 204]

    contends that if "reasonable grounds" are required, the evidence in the court below was sufficient to establish their existence.

This Court has had recent occasion to decide the first of these issues in Bureau of Traffic Safety v. Schultz, 25 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 598, 360 A.2d 754 (1976). In that case, Judge Blatt, speaking for this Court, held that "as a condition precedent to a suspension of operating privileges pursuant to Section 624.1(a), the arresting officer must have reasonable grounds to believe that the person charged with a violation of Section 1037 of the Code had been driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor." 25 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. at 602-3, 360 A.2d at 757 (footnote omitted). The Schultz case and the cases cited therein are controlling here.

We must therefore examine the second question: whether the lower court erred as a matter of law in finding that the evidence in this case was insufficient to show that the arresting officer had reasonable grounds to believe Driesbach was driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. This Court may, of course, review the lower court's reversal of a license suspension pursuant to Section 624.1(a) of the Code for errors of law. Bureau of Traffic Safety v. Drugotch, 9 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 460, 308 A.2d 183 (1973).

Whether evidence is sufficient to constitute "reasonable grounds" can only be decided on a case-by-case basis. The test, however, is not very demanding. We note initially that, for "reasonable grounds" to exist, the police officer obviously need not be correct in his belief that the motorist had been driving while intoxicated. We are dealing here with the authority to request ...


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