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United States v. Prado

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 15, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ANGEL PRADO, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert D. Mariani, United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Prado's Amended Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence and Incriminating Statements (Doc. 66). After viewing the video evidence and the testimony of two evidentiary hearings, the Court finds that additional briefing is required.

         I. Background

         The Court provides a brief account of events pertinent to the initial traffic stop that led to Defendant Prado's arrest. On December 19, 2013, Pennsylvania State Trooper Paul Lindsay initiated a traffic stop on Interstate 80 in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, at approximately 9:58 A.M., for a violation of 75 Pa.C.S. § 3309, driving on roadways laned for traffic. (Doc. 74, 6/9/16 Tr., at 25:22-24.) Trooper Lindsay testified that Defendant Prado crossed over the white fog line and traveled on the right shoulder for a couple of seconds. (Id. at 7:13-15; 26:2-3; 27:4-6.) Trooper Lindsey testified, and the video evidence shows, that Defendant Prado was traveling on a straightaway and was not in danger of facing any oncoming traffic or vehicles on the side of the road, (Id. at 27:21-28:4; Govt. Ex. 7, Video.) Trooper Lindsay testified that it was the only motor vehicle violation he observed with respect to Defendant Prado's driving, (Id. at 26:11-13.) Trooper Lindsey testified that he thought this motor vehicle violation could have been the result of Defendant Prado being sick or under the influence (Id. at 26:2-6), and that he was concerned for Defendant Prado's safety, as the shoulder of the road had some snow and ice accumulation (Id. at 29:20-24). As a result, Trooper Lindsay initiated a traffic stop, (Id. at 7:22-23.)

         II. Discussion

         It is incumbent upon the Court at this stage, to find the facts and weigh the credibility of the witnesses. After review of the video evidence, testimony of the two suppression hearings, and relevant case law, the Court has a grave concern of whether the initial traffic stop was proper. At the suppression hearing held before this Court, defense counsel objected to Trooper Lindsay's characterization of the video with respect to Defendant Prado's alleged violation of Section 3309(1), leaving it to the Court to determine what the video depicted. (Doc. 84, 12/13/16 Tr., at 35:9-14.) Defense counsel then contradicted himself in a footnote in his post-hearing brief, stating that Defendant Prado "does not contest the propriety of the initial stop for violation of § 3309 of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code." (Doc. 85 at 4 n. 2.)

         As the factfinder, the Court cannot ignore the indisputable video evidence, which does not show Defendant Prado crossing the white fog line at any time. The video evidence does show that at one point, Defendant Prado appeared to be riding alongside and possibly touching the left side of the line with the right side of his passenger side tire.

         At another point, Defendant Prado's right tire appears to be riding on the line for a few seconds, but at no point does the right tire ever cross the white fog line. In light of federal and Pennsylvania case law, the parties shall address whether the Defendant's actions violated Section 3309(1) in a manner such that there was probable cause to pull Defendant's car over.

         When asked whether it is a traffic violation in Pennsylvania when someone weaves over and crosses the line, Trooper Lindsay answered in the affirmative. (Doc. 74, 6/9/16 Tr., at 7:19-21.) The Court finds this statement inconsistent with the statutory language of Section 3309(1) and relevant case law, which suggests that it is not a per se violation.

         Section 3309(1) states,

(1) Driving within single lane. - A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from the lane until the driver has first ascertained that the movement can be made with safety.

75 Pa.C.S. § 3309(1) (emphasis added). Safety considerations and whether the deviation from the lane was "momentary and minor" are taken into account when determining whether the officer had probable cause to make a stop for a violation of Section 3309(1). See Commonwealth v. Gleason. 785 A.2d 983 (Pa. 2001) (superseded by 75 Pa.C.S. § 6308(b))[1] (finding that a lack of evidence of a safety hazard precluded finding that probable cause existed for a Section 3309(1) violation); Commonwealth v. Anderson, 2005 Pa. Super. 407 (2005) (finding infractions not "momentary and minor"): see also Commonwealth v. Chase. 960 A.2d 108, 116 (Pa. 2008) (distinguishing the circumstances of when reasonable suspicion and probable cause are required to make a stop); Commonwealth v. Feczko. 10 A.3d 1285 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2010) (en banc) (applying the probable cause standard to a stop made under section 3309(1)).

         The statutory language, "as nearly as practicable, " permits minor deviations from the lane, as evidenced by case law on the subject. See Commonwealth v. Enick, 70 A.3d 843, 847 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2013) (finding the statutory language of Section 3309(1) does not foreclose minor deviations). For example, in Gleason. the officer observed the vehicle cross the solid fog line two or three times, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that probable cause did not exist for a Section 3309(1) violation.

         Additionally, in Commonwealth v. Turney, 2005 Pa. D. & C. Lexis 498 (Armstrong Cnty. 2005), the court found that probable cause did not exist when the motorist "crossed the fog line on two occasions and then crossed over the fog line completely so that the driver side tires touched the fog line and the vehicle itself was on the berm." Turney. 2005 Pa. D. & C. Lexis 498, at *3, 7. The court noted that Pennsylvania courts have not found that probable cause exists if the driving infraction is "momentary and minor, " as compared to more serious driving infractions that were sufficient to find probable cause, Id. at ...


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