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Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Daniel Brian Beck

November 15, 2011


Appeal from the Suppression Order August 4, 2010, In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-02-CR-0014348-2009

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Freedberg, J.




The Commonwealth appeals*fn1 from the order entered on August 4, 2010, as amended by the Order of September 3, 2010, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County granting Appellee's motion to suppress Blood Alcohol Content ("BAC") test results. We reverse and remand.

On June 20, 2009, South Fayette Police Department Police Officer Jeffrey Sgro responded to a single-car accident. When he arrived at the scene, Sgro observed a single car resting on its passenger side in the westbound lane; an individual, later identified as Appellee, Daniel Beck, was lying partially inside the vehicle. Beck was unconscious throughout, however, Sgro observed a strong odor of alcohol about Appellee's person. Sgro did not see any containers of alcohol or any evidence that a second vehicle might be involved in the accident.

Appellee was taken to a hospital for treatment. Since Sgro believed alcohol might have been a factor in the accident, he served a subpoena for BAC test results on the hospital at which Appellee was treated, and obtained the BAC tests results from the hospital.

Appellee was charged with three counts of driving under the influence.*fn2 On June 9, 2010, Appellee filed a motion to suppress the BAC results obtained pursuant to the subpoena on the hospital. The BAC test had been administered by the hospital staff for independent medical treatment purposes. Where a BAC test is not requested by the police but rather is done as part of an independent medical protocol, the police cannot obtain the results via subpoena; the police must obtain a search warrant. Commonwealth v. Shaw, 770 A.2d 295 (Pa. 2001). The district attorney then contacted Allegheny County Police Department Detective Robert Keenan, an expert in accident reconstruction, and asked him to conduct an independent investigation of the case, with the objective of obtaining Appellee's BAC test results via a valid search warrant.

Following the investigation, some eight or nine months after the accident, Keenan presented a search warrant to a Magisterial District Judge ("MDJ"). While obtaining the warrant, Keenan advised the MDJ that the medical records had previously been obtained erroneously by subpoena stating that this was the standard operating procedure of the South Fayette Police Department, and the Department should change those procedures. The MDJ granted the warrant, and the Commonwealth obtained the BAC results.

A hearing took place on Appellee's motion on July 7, 2010. On August 4, 2010, the suppression court granted the motion to suppress, suppressing both the BAC test results and all evidence incident to the stop and search of Appellee by Officer Sgro. The Commonwealth filed a motion for reconsideration. On September 3, 2010, the suppression court partially granted the motion, holding that the only items to be suppressed were the BAC test results obtained by Sgro by subpoena and Keenan by warrant. The Commonwealth filed the instant, timely appeal and a timely concise statement and amended concise statement of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). The trial court filed an opinion.

On appeal, the Commonwealth raises the following issue for our review.

Whether the suppression court erred in finding that the second set of blood test results obtained via a search warrant by a detective unrelated to the initial police department were tainted because that detective improperly informed the magistrate district justice that the initial set of records was improperly obtained by subpoena, and therefore, could not qualify as an independent source?

Commonwealth's Brief at 4.*fn3

On appeal, the Commonwealth argues that the trial court erred in granting the motion to suppress. When the Commonwealth appeals from a suppression order, we follow a clearly defined scope and standard of review. We consider only the evidence from the defendant's witnesses together with the evidence of the prosecution that, when read in the context of the entire record, remains uncontradicted. Commonwealth v. Henry, 943 A.2d 967, 969 (Pa. Super. 2008.). This Court must first determine whether the record supports the factual findings of the suppression court and then determine the reasonableness of the inferences and legal conclusions drawn from those findings. Id. In appeals where there is no meaningful dispute of fact, ...

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