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Commonwealth v. Salter

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

August 4, 2015

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellant
v.
STEPHANIE J. SALTER, Appellee

Argued December 10, 2014

Page 988

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 989

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, York County, Criminal Division, No: CP-67-CR-0008129-2013. Before RENN, J.

Stephanie E. Lombardo, Assistant District Attorney, York, for Commonwealth, appellant.

Timothy M. Barrouk, Harrisburg, for appellee.

BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., SHOGAN, and STABILE, JJ.

OPINION

Page 990

STABILE, J.

The Commonwealth appeals from the March 17, 2014 order of the Court of Common Pleas of York County granting Appellee, Stephanie J. Salter's, motion to suppress evidence obtained following a traffic stop. We reverse and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

In relevant part, the trial court summarized the facts and the procedural history of the case as follows:

In the early morning hours of September 21, 2013, Officer Corey Sheaffer was on routine patrol when he observed that the vehicle ahead of him did not have lights illuminating the license plate.[1] To confirm his suspicion that the lights were in fact not working, Officer Sheaffer turned off his headlights, which " confirmed" his suspicion. At this point, Officer Sheaffer decided to conduct a traffic stop on the vehicle. After the vehicle pulled over, Officer Sheaffer approached the vehicle and spoke with the driver, who he identified as [Appellee]. [Appellee] provided the officer with all necessary documentation, and it was at this point that the officer . . . " noticed an odor of intoxicating beverage emanating from inside the vehicle." Along with the smell, Officer Sheaffer observed [Appellee]'s eyes were glassy and bloodshot, which prompted him to ask [Appellee] how much she had had to drink. [Appellee] admitted that she had two glasses of wine. . . . At this point, the officer asked [Appellee] to submit to four field tests.[2]. . . After [Appellee] performed all four tests, Officer Sheaffer placed [Appellee] under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Trial Court Opinion, 6/5/14, at 2-3 (citations to the record omitted).

After the magisterial district court bound over all charges,[3] the trial court conducted a hearing on Appellee's motion to suppress evidence. Following the hearing, the trial court found the officer had reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop,[4] but it suppressed the evidence of the

Page 991

Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) test because the officer did not have probable cause to arrest Appellee for driving under the influence (DUI). The Commonwealth timely appealed.[5]

In its Rule 1925(a) opinion, the trial court, in addition to reiterating the propriety of the suppression of the BAC test result, also added, for the first time, that the officer lacked probable cause to conduct a traffic stop for Appellee's failure to have her vehicle's license plate illuminated.

On appeal, the Commonwealth raises the following issues:

1. Did the suppression court err in reversing its earlier order in its 1925(a) opinion?
2. Did the suppression court err in granting [Appellee]'s omnibus pre-trial motion by finding that the initial stop was not supported by probable cause?

Appellant's Supplemental Brief at 4.[6]

We do not need to address the first issue because we conclude the trial court erred in finding the officer did not have probable cause to stop Appellee.

In its Rule 1925(a) opinion, the trial court, in concluding that the officer did not have probable cause to conduct a ...


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