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LAWRENCE E. SAUNDERS v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (06/01/83)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: June 1, 1983.

LAWRENCE E. SAUNDERS, APPELLANT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Lawrence E. Saunders, No. SA 900 of 1980.

COUNSEL

John W. Murtagh, Jr., Greenfield & Murtagh, for appellant.

Harold H. Cramer, Assistant Counsel, with him Ward T. Williams, Chief Counsel, and Jay C. Waldman, General Counsel, for appellee.

Judges Blatt, Craig and Doyle, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt.

Author: Blatt

[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 546]

Lawrence E. Saunders appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County which upheld the Bureau of Traffic Safety (Bureau) in suspending his motor vehicle operating privileges for a six-month period because he refused to submit to a breathalyzer examination. Section 1547(b) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. ยง 1547(b).

The facts as found by the trial court are that Saunders was observed in his vehicle, stopped at a red light on Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by Officer Robert J. Reed of the City of Pittsburgh Police Department. Officer Reed testified that Saunders' car was heavily damaged on the front end, that the radiator was steaming, that, when he approached the said vehicle, he detected a heavy aroma of alcohol, and that

[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 547]

    he believed Saunders to be intoxicated. When Saunders was asked to take a breathalyzer examination, however, he refused. The Bureau of Traffic Safety consequently suspended Saunders' motor vehicle operating privileges for a six-month period, and he appealed. The trial court upheld the suspension, and the instant appeal followed.

Before us*fn1 Saunders argues only*fn2 that there is no evidence in the record to support a finding that he was driving a vehicle and that his motor vehicle operation privileges, therefore, cannot be suspended under Section 1547(b) of the Vehicle Code.

The Commonwealth counters that, in a civil appeal from a license suspension for a refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test, the burden on the Bureau to establish that a licensee was driving while intoxicated is less severe than the burden would be upon the Commonwealth in a criminal proceeding concerning the offense of driving while under the influence of alcohol, and that the Commonwealth has met its burden here.

We have recognized that in a breathalyzer suspension appeal the Bureau must prove, among other things,*fn3 that the arresting officer had reasonable grounds to believe that the licensee had been driving while intoxicated. Bureau of Traffic Safety v. Dreisbach, 26 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 201, 363 A.2d 870 (1976).

[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 548]

In the case at hand, Officer Reed testified that he had observed Saunders in his automobile stopped at a red light with his automobile heavily damaged and the radiator steaming. Additionally, Officer Reed testified that he had received a police call that there was a wrecked vehicle proceeding down the street in the easterly direction and that, soon after this call, he observed Saunders in his vehicle (facing east) at the red light referred to above.

Considering the circumstances*fn4 surrounding the incident and the evidence adduced below, we believe that Officer Reed had reasonable grounds to believe Saunders was driving while intoxicated.

Accordingly, we will affirm the trial court's order.

Order

And Now, this 1st day of June, 1983, the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in the above-captioned matter is hereby affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.


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