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[U] Commonwealth v. Hills

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 20, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
MICHAEL JOHN HILLS, Appellant

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence March 27, 2013 in the Court of Common Pleas of Adams County Criminal Division at No.: CP-01-CR-0000420-2012

BEFORE: DONOHUE, J., OTT, J., and PLATT, J. [*]

MEMORANDUM

PLATT, J.

Appellant, Michael John Hills, appeals from the judgment of sentence after conviction of three counts of DUI-controlled substance (marijuana) and one count of speeding, at a bench trial on stipulated facts. The conviction followed denial of most of Appellant's motion to suppress. Appellant argues that the police stop of his vehicle, after the initial detention for speeding, was illegal, and the evidence on which he was convicted should have been suppressed. [1] We affirm.

The trial court made extensive findings of fact as part of its opinion on the motion to suppress. (See Opinion on Defendant's' Motion for Suppression of Evidence, 11/05/12, at 1-4). The parties agreed to the facts of the case at the bench trial. (See N.T. Trial, 2/11/13, at 7).

Most pertinent to our review, Appellant was stopped for speeding on January 14, 2012, on Jacks Mountain Road, Carroll Valley Borough, in Adams County, by Police Chief Richard L. Hileman, II, after Patrol Officer Dustin Kirk Miller timed him driving fifty-four miles per hour in a zone with a forty miles per hour posted speed limit.

Chief Hileman testified at the suppression hearing that when Appellant opened the driver's side window he detected the very strong odor of recently applied or opened cologne; he noted that Appellant's speech was lethargic and the pupils of his eyes were constricted. (See N.T. Suppression Hearing, 9/24/12, at 8-10). Appellant gave him his personal health insurance card instead of proof of auto insurance. (See id. at 8).

Chief Hileman further testified that based on his training and experience he took these conditions as possible indications of intoxication, noting that cologne was frequently used to mask the odor of marijuana. He asked Appellant to step outside of the car to perform field sobriety tests. Appellant had some difficulty following the instructions and accomplishing the tests. Chief Hileman testified that he was aware that difficulty in performing field sobriety tests could be an indicator of either drug or alcohol intoxication. (See id. at 13).

While Chief Hileman went back to his vehicle to run a check on Appellant's license, Officer Miller approached Appellant, told him that "now is the time to be truthful" and asked him again if he had been smoking marijuana. (Id. at 30, 34; see also Trial Court Opinion, 11/05/12, at 3). Appellant admitted that he had smoked marijuana that morning. Miller told Hileman, and Appellant repeated the admission to Hileman. Chief Hileman asked him if there was anything else on his person or in the car that he needed to be concerned about. Appellant replied that he had a partial case of beer in the trunk. The police seized several unopened bottles of beer

Based on his interaction with Appellant, Chief Hileman decided that Appellant was under the influence of marijuana to a degree which rendered him incapable of safe driving, arrested him, and transported him to Gettysburg Hospital where blood tests confirmed the presence of Delta-9 THC, an active ingredient of marijuana, and Delta-9 Carboxy THC, an inactive metabolite of marijuana in his system. (See N.T. Trial, at 6).

Appellant filed an omnibus motion to suppress, which the trial court granted as to the unopened bottles of beer but denied in all other respects. After the stipulated bench trial, the court convicted Appellant of the offenses previously noted, and on March 27, 2013 sentenced him to a term of twenty-four months in the intermediate punishment program (IPP).[2] This timely appeal followed.[3]

On appeal, Appellant presents two overlapping multi-issue questions for our review, ...


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