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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. DONALD J. FENTO (04/28/87)

filed: April 28, 1987.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT,
v.
DONALD J. FENTO



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Venango County at No. S.D.No. 51 of 1986.

COUNSEL

William G. Martin, Jr., District Attorney, Franklin, for Com.

Oliver J. LoBaugh, Seneca, for appellee.

Kelly, Popovich and Hoffman, JJ.

Author: Popovich

[ 363 Pa. Super. Page 490]

This is an appeal by appellant, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, from an order granting the appellee's, Donald J. Fento's, motion to suppress his statement to Trooper Thomas Chelgren, entered in the Venango County Court of Common Pleas. We must reverse and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

A criminal complaint was issued against appellee on February 5, 1986, charging him with driving under the influence of alcohol [75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3731(a)(1) and (4)] and failing to drive a vehicle at a safe speed [75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3361]. The complaint came about as the result of appellant's involvement in a one-car accident on Route No. 62, Cranberry Township, Venango County, on January 6, 1986. Appellee was the driver and sole occupant of the vehicle. Appellee filed pre-trial motions to quash the information for failure to prove a prima facie case at the preliminary hearing, to suppress a blood alcohol reading of 0.375 taken at the hospital and to suppress the appellee's statements made at the hospital. Appellee's motion regarding the statements made at the hospital was granted, and the others were denied. This appeal followed.

The sole issue presented upon appeal is whether the appellee was "in custody" and the police officer should have given Miranda warnings to the appellee when he interviewed the appellee as a patient in a treatment room of the

[ 363 Pa. Super. Page 491]

    emergency room of the hospital regarding the automobile accident in which appellee was involved.

In the instant case, the record shows that appellee initially left the scene of the one-car accident with a witness who transported the appellee to the appellee's home. Appellee was then taken by ambulance to the Oil City Hospital in order to be treated for his injuries. While investigating the accident scene, Trooper Thomas Chelgren of the Pennsylvania State Police observed the ambulance transporting the appellee to the hospital. After remaining at the accident scene for approximately thirty (30) minutes, Trooper Chelgren went to the hospital in order to interview the appellee.

Trooper Chelgren testified that, upon arrival at the hospital, he received permission from hospital personnel to question the appellee. Upon entering the treatment room in the hospital emergency room area where the appellee was located, Trooper Chelgren found the appellee confined to a bed for observation and treatment. Before questioning appellee, Trooper Chelgren stood in the room and observed as a nurse or technician drew blood from his arm. Immediately following the administration of the blood test, Trooper Chelgren questioned appellee for about five (5) minutes. In response to Trooper Chelgren's questions, appellee stated that he was operating the vehicle in question, that he was traveling at a certain speed, that he had consumed "a couple of beers" prior to the accident and that he had not consumed any alcohol subsequent to the accident. In addition, Trooper Chelgren detected an odor of alcohol on appellee's breath and noticed that appellee's eyes were bloodshot and his speech was slurred. Trooper Chelgren testified that he felt appellee was incapable of making a knowing consent to a blood test ordered by hospital personnel. Trooper Chelgren also testified that, during questioning, appellee did not appear alert. At no time during the interview did Trooper Chelgren give the appellee his Miranda warnings. Appellee was not arrested at the end of the interview.

[ 363 Pa. Super. Page 492]

Trooper Chelgren testified that his decision to file charges was not made until the following day when he observed the results of appellee's blood test which had been ordered the previous day by hospital personnel. At that time, Trooper Chelgren returned to the hospital and informed appellee that he received the results of his blood test and that, since appellee's blood alcohol level was over the limit, he would be filing charges of driving under the influence of alcohol against appellee.

Appellant, the Commonwealth, argues that appellee was not "in custody" when questioned by Trooper Chelgren in the emergency room area of the hospital and, therefore, Miranda warnings were not required. Rather, the Commonwealth contends that Trooper Chelgren interviewed the appellee as a part of his basic accident investigation and no arrest was made at that point. We agree.

In Commonwealth v. Chacko, 500 Pa. 571, 577, 459 A.2d 311, 314 (1983), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court followed the mandate of the United States Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 1612, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966) and ruled:

The test for determining whether a suspect is being subjected to custodial interrogation so as to necessitate Miranda warnings is whether he is physically deprived of his freedom in any significant way or is placed in a situation in which he reasonably believes that his freedom of action or movement is restricted by such interrogation. (citations omitted).

Miranda warnings are necessary only on those occasions when a suspect is undergoing actual "custodial interrogation." The fact that a defendant was the focus of the investigation is a relevant factor in determining whether he was "in custody." However, the fact that a police investigation has focused on a particular person no longer automatically requires Miranda warnings. Commonwealth v. Holcomb, 508 Pa. 425, 440, 498 A.2d 833, 840 ...


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