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Commonwealth v. Wright

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 19, 2013



Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence, November 14, 2012, in the Court of Common Pleas of Potter County Criminal Division at No. CP-53-CR-0000147-2011




Mark Andrew Wright appeals from the judgment of sentence entered November 14, 2012, following his conviction of driving under the influence (DUI)-general impairment, 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3802(a)(1), and failure to signal a turn, 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3334(b). The sole issue presented challenges the denial of appellant's motion to suppress. We affirm.

The relevant facts presented at the suppression hearing, as summarized by the trial court, are as follows:

On July 8, 2011, Officer William Wenzel of the Coudersport Borough Police Department was on routine patrol in the Borough of Coudersport. At approximately 1:10 a.m. on said date, Officer Wenzel was standing near the Western entrance to the Sheetz Convenient [sic] Store with Chief Brian Phelps and several State Troopers engaged in casual conversation. The Sheetz Store is located in the Borough of Coudersport at the intersection of South Main Street and Chestnut Street. At or about 1:10 a.m. [appellant] was operating a Ford Mustang automobile when he exited the McDonald's Restaurant turning South on South Main Street. Thereafter, [appellant] traveled toward the intersection of South Main and Chestnut Streets, which said intersection is controlled by an electronic traffic control device.
Just prior to the intersection, the South bound lane of South Main Street, [sic] separates into two lanes. The inside lane is for traffic intending to continue straight through the traffic light continuing on South Main Street. The outside lane is used exclusively for traffic making a right hand turn at the intersection and onto the West bound lane of Chestnut Street. This outside lane is controlled by a green arrow on the traffic light directing all traffic in that lane to turn right.
The testimony of [appellant] is that after he exited the McDonald's parking lot and just prior to entering the right bound lane at the aforesaid intersection, he activated his right turn signal indicating his desire to turn right. [Appellant] also testified that he deactivated his turn signal after he entered the lane; but did not reactivate the signal at the intersection before turning right onto East Chestnut Street. The distance from the exit of McDonald's to the intersection is approximately 350 feet.
The testimony of Officer Wenzel is that he heard [appellant's] vehicle engine racing before he saw [appellant's] vehicle. Thereafter, the Officer observed [appellant] approach the intersection without activating his right turn signal and then turned right onto Chestnut Street. This observation is consistent with the testimony of [appellant], that no right turn signal was implemented just prior to and during the right hand turn onto Chestnut Street. The Officer also testified that [appellant] was traveling 35 miles per hour in a speed zone of 25 miles per hour and [appellant's] tires squealed through the intersection. Officer Wenzel testified further that he observed [appellant] accelerate and proceed West on Chestnut Street. Officer Wenzel then entered his patrol car and followed [appellant] to the Westgate Motel located at the edge of the Borough. [Appellant] told Officer Wenzel he had not consumed any alcoholic beverages although [appellant] later recanted that statement and reported that he had been drinking earlier at the Motel.

Trial court opinion, 2/8/12 at 1-3 (footnote omitted).

Appellant was arrested and charged with DUI, reckless driving, and failure to signal. He filed a motion to suppress challenging the propriety of the stop. A hearing was held on February 3, 2012; and on February 8, 2012, the motion was denied. A bench trial was held on August 30, 2012. Appellant was convicted of DUI and failure to signal; the court found him not guilty of reckless driving. On November 14, 2012, appellant was sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment of not less than five days nor more than six months. A timely notice of appeal was filed, and appellant complied with the trial court's order to file a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P., Rule 1925(b), 42 Pa.C.S.A.

Herein, appellant presents the following issue:

Whether or not the trial court erred in concluding that the police officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant in a right-hand turn lane which was clearly illuminated by a traffic signal device indicating a green arrow ...

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