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Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. John Farnan

October 11, 2012


Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence Entered August 18, 2011 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-02-CR-0015727-2010

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


Appellant, John Farnan, appeals from the judgment of sentence entered on August 18, 2011 in the Criminal Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. We affirm.

Following a bench trial on August 18, 2011, the court found Appellant guilty of driving under the influence (DUI-general impairment),*fn2 driving under the influence (DUI-highest rate),*fn3 driving while operating privilege suspended/revoked,*fn4 and driving without a license.*fn5 Immediately thereafter, the court sentenced Appellant to 90 days' restrictive intermediate punishment, 18 months' probation, and fines, costs and other restrictions. The trial court summarized the factual and procedural background in this case as follows:

On September 21, 2010, Sergeant David Mazza of the Sewickley Borough Police Department responded to a call received at approximately 4:40 p.m. The call involved a potential problem involving a custody dispute. [K.L. (Appellant's ex-wife)] requested police assistance at her home on Bank Street. [K.L.] informed Sergeant Mazza that [Appellant] was on his way to pick up the couple's children, contrary to their custody order. She indicated to Sergeant Mazza that she thought that there was going to be a problem between she and [Appellant], which was why she called the police. Sergeant Mazza was familiar with both [K.L.] and [Appellant], having been involved in past incidents between the two.

Sergeant Mazza was one of three (3) officers in two (2) marked cars who arrived at the scene. At the time of his arrival, [Appellant] was not present at [K.L.'s]. While the officers were speaking with [K.L.], she pointed to a vehicle that was traveling along Bank Street and said "Here he comes." A vehicle approached [K.L.'s] house and then proceeded down the street without stopping. Sergeant Mazza was able to identify [Appellant] as the driver of the vehicle, as well.

Sergeant Mazza testified that, within thirty (30) days before this incident, [K.L.] had informed him that [Appellant] was driving with a suspended license. Upon receiving the information, Sergeant Mazza had confirmed that [Appellant's] license was suspended for a DUI-related matter. [Appellant] drove past [K.L.'s] house after looking at the officers and [K.L.] standing outside. Sergeant Mazza then got into his police car and followed [Appellant]. After approximately 20 seconds, Sergeant Mazza activated his lights and [stopped Appellant]. Sergeant Mazza testified that he pulled [Appellant] over [] for three (3) reasons: (1) the suspended license; (2) the suspicious behavior in driving past [K.L.'s] house due to the presence of police vehicles and personnel; and (3) the need to investigate [K.L.'s] complaint.

Sergeant Mazza was the sole witness who testified at the suppression hearing. [The trial court found Sergeant Mazza's testimony to be credible and concluded that the traffic stop was supported by reasonable suspicion, including the fact that Sergeant Mazza articulated specific grounds to support his belief that Appellant was operating his vehicle with a suspended driver's license. Accordingly, the trial court] denied [Appellant's] [s]uppression [m]otion pursuant to an [o]rder dated July 19, 2011. [Appellant] proceeded to a stipulated non-jury trial on August 18, 2011[. At trial, evidence was introduced that Appellant failed four field sobriety tests and that his blood alcohol content was .185%.] [Appellant] was found guilty on all counts.

Trial Court Opinion, 12/2/11, at 1-3.*fn6

Appellant's brief raises the following questions for our consideration:

Whether the [t]rial [c]court erred in failing to suppress evidence obtained as a result of an unlawful traffic stop, where there was no reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot or that a violation of the Motor Vehicle Code was occurring[?]

Whether the [trial court] erred in finding reasonable suspicion to justify [the] traffic stop where facts articulated by the arresting [o]fficer and found by the [t]rial [c]court in support of reasonable suspicion, consisted of stale information regarding a past Motor Vehicle Code [v]violation and/or a potential civil custody, dispute, rather than fresh information or facts which might infer a current Code violation or involvement in actual criminal activity[?]

Appellant's Brief at 8.

Because Appellant challenges an order that denied his motion to suppress, we review his claims pursuant to the ...

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