from the Judgment of Sentence September 29, 2016 In the Court
of Common Pleas of York County Criminal Division at No(s):
BEFORE: SHOGAN, MOULTON, JJ., and STEVENS, P.J.E.
an appeal from the judgment of sentence entered in the Court
of Common Pleas of York County following Appellant Jesse Ray
Bush's conviction in a non-jury trial on the charges of
possession of drug paraphernalia, driving under the influence
of alcohol or a controlled substance ("DUI"),
driving under suspension as a habitual offender, and driving
under suspension-DUI related. Appellant's sole claim is
that the police officer did not have probable cause or
reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle, and therefore, the
lower court erred in denying his pre-trial motion to suppress
the physical evidence seized by the police. After a careful
review, we affirm.
relevant facts and procedural history are as follows:
Appellant was arrested, and on April 11, 2016, he filed a
counseled pre-trial motion seeking to suppress the physical
evidence seized by the police following the stop of his
vehicle. Specifically, Appellant averred the stop of his
vehicle was illegal since the police officer had neither
probable cause nor reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop.
28, 2016, the matter proceeded to a suppression hearing at
which the sole witness was Pennsylvania State Police Trooper
Raymond W. Rutter, who testified that he has been a trooper
for approximately three years. N.T., 6/28/16, at 4. He
indicated that, on November 1, 2015, at approximately 3:15
a.m., he was on duty and traveling in the left-hand lane on
I-83 southbound near the Maryland state line when he observed
[A] SUV, a dark colored SUV, which was traveling northbound,
which had passed me, which had its high beams on. While that
[SUV] had passed me there was another vehicle-that [SUV] was
traveling in the right lane, there was a smaller sedan which
was traveling in the left-hand lane, passing that [SUV] that
was in the right which had its high beams on, and then I spun
around just north of the Maryland line, the divider, and
approached that [SUV] which I saw [with] its high beams on
from the rear.
Id. at 6-7.
asked by the prosecutor how he could "tell that the high
beams were on[, ]" Trooper Rutter answered that the
lights "were bright to me looking at them."
Id. at 7. Trooper Rutter indicated that his
experience as a trooper assisted him in making his
when the prosecutor asked Trooper Rutter how close he was to
the SUV when he first noticed the high beams were activated,
Trooper Rutter testified that he was within 300 feet.
Id. at 8. He further indicated that he
"actually pas[sed] [the SUV] going south and they were
still activated. So whatever the distance from two lanes over
would be on the interstate, plus the center."
Rutter clarified that, when he turned his police vehicle
around at the highway divider and proceeded northbound, he
did so with the intent of stopping Appellant's SUV
"for the violation of the high beams." Id.
He indicated that, once he caught up to the SUV, he did not
immediately stop it, but he continued to follow it as he knew
that the welcome center, which would be a safe place to stop
the SUV, was "just north of [his] location."
followed the SUV to the welcome center, Trooper Rutter
noticed the vehicle "cross over the fog lines two
times[.]" Id. at 8-9. Trooper Rutter testified
that, at this point, in addition to the high beams traffic
violation, Trooper Rutter suspected that Appellant might be
DUI. Id. at 10-11. He clarified, however, that even
if Appellant's SUV had not crossed the fog lines twice,
he still intended to stop the vehicle "for the high
beams violation." Id. at 11. Trooper Rutter
indicated that he stopped Appellant's SUV, and charged
Appellant with numerous crimes, including DUI-related charges
and the high beams violation. Id. at 12.
cross-examination, Trooper Rutter clarified that, in the area
where the incident occurred, between the northbound and
southbound lanes on I-83, there was a guardrail at the height
of the concrete barriers. Id. at 13-14, 16. He
confirmed that Appellant was driving in the northbound
right-hand lane, and he was traveling in the southbound
left-hand lane; the divider between the northbound and
southbound lanes was approximately sixty feet in width.
Id. at 16. Trooper Rutter testified that the
highways were straight without curves in this area, so the
northbound and southbound vehicles passed each other.
Rutter reiterated that when he first noticed Appellant's
SUV traveling northbound it "appeared to [him] that it
had the high beams on." Id. at 14. He noted
that he has "made numerous stops on high beam
violations, and [Appellant's SUV] appeared to be
[sic] high beams on to [him.]" Id. at
14-15. Further, Trooper Rutter noted that, based on his
training and experience, Appellant's SUV had its high
beams on. Id. at 15. He testified that
Appellant's SUV's lights "affected [his] eyes,
they were bright into [his] eyes, but it didn't make
[him] swerve or crash or anything like that."
Id. He noted that the sedan, which was passing
Appellant's SUV, did not have its high beams activated.
Id. at 16. Trooper Rutter testified that he is
"pretty good" about "picking out" which
vehicles have their high beams activated. Id. at 20.
He reiterated that from his "training and experience it
appeared to be high beams and that's why [he] initiated
the stop [of Appellant's SUV]." Id. at 21.
conclusion of the hearing, the suppression court denied
Appellant's motion to suppress, concluding that Trooper
Rutter observed Appellant's SUV with its high beams
improperly activated, and thus, he had probable cause to stop
Appellant's SUV. Id. at 41-42. Subsequently,
following a non-jury trial, the trial court convicted
Appellant of the offenses indicated supra and
sentenced him to an aggregate of nine and one-half years to
twenty years in prison. This timely appeal followed, and all
Pa.R.A.P. 1925 requirements have been met.
appeal, Appellant contends that the stop of his SUV was
illegal since Trooper Rutter did not have the requisite
probable cause or reasonable suspicion to initiate a stop.
Accordingly, he argues the trial court erred in denying his
pre-trial motion to suppress the physical evidence seized as
a result of the stop of his SUV.
issue of what quantum of cause a police officer must possess
in order to conduct a vehicle stop based on a possible
violation of the Motor Vehicle Code is a question of law,
over which our scope of review is plenary and our standard of
review is de novo. Commonwealth v. Chase,
599 Pa. 80, 960 A.2d 108 (2008). "[A]ppellate courts are
limited to reviewing only the evidence presented at the
suppression hearing when examining a ruling on a pre-trial
motion to suppress." Commonwealth v. Stilo, 138
A.3d 33, 35-36 (Pa.Super. 2016) (citation omitted). Our
Supreme Court has declared:
[The] standard of review in addressing a challenge to a trial
court's denial of a suppression motion is whether the
factual findings are supported by the record and whether the
legal conclusions drawn from those facts are correct. When
reviewing such a ruling by the suppression court, we must
consider only the evidence of the prosecution and so much of
the evidence of the defense as remains uncontradicted when
read in the context of the record....Where the record
supports the findings of the suppression court, we are bound
by those facts and may reverse only if the legal conclusions
drawn therefrom are in error.
Commonwealth v. Eichinger, 591 Pa. 1, 915 A.2d 1122,
1134 (2007) (internal citations omitted). "It is within
the suppression court's sole province as factfinder to
pass on the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be
given their testimony." Commonwealth v.
Gallagher, 896 A.2d 583, 585 (Pa.Super. 2006) (quotation
marks and quotation omitted).
analysis of the quantum of cause required for a traffic stop
begins with 75 Pa.C.S.A.§ 6308(b), which provides:
(b) Authority of police officer.-Whenever a
police officer is engaged in a systematic program of checking
vehicles or drivers or has reasonable suspicion that a
violation of this title is occurring or has occurred, he may
stop a vehicle, upon request or signal, for the purpose of
checking the vehicle's registration, proof of financial
responsibility, vehicle identification number or engine
number or the driver's license, or to secure such other
information as the officer may reasonably believe to be
necessary to enforce the provisions of this title.
75 Pa.C.S.A. § 6308(b) (bold in original). "Traffic
stops based on a reasonable suspicion: either of criminal
activity or a violation of the Motor Vehicle Code under the
authority of Section 6308(b) must serve a stated
investigatory purpose." Commonwealth v. Feczko,
10 A.3d 1285, 1291 (Pa.Super. 2010) (en banc)
(citation omitted). For a stop based on the observed
violation of the vehicle code or otherwise non-investigable
offense, an officer must have probable cause to make a
constitutional vehicle stop. Feczko, 10 A.3d at 1291
("Mere reasonable suspicion will not justify a vehicle
stop when the driver's detention cannot serve an
investigatory purpose relevant to the suspected
the trial court found that Trooper Rutter credibly testified
that he stopped Appellant's vehicle on the basis that
Appellant had his high beams activated in violation of 75
Pa.C.S.A. § 4306, use of multiple-beam road lighting
equipment. Since an investigation following the traffic stop
would have provided Trooper Rutter with no additional
information as to whether Appellant violated Section 4306,
probable cause was necessary to initiate the stop on this
basis. See Commonwealth v. Slattery, 139 A.3d 221,
222-23 (Pa.Super. 2016) (holding that where the
"vehicular stop is to determine whether there has been
compliance with the Commonwealth's vehicle code, it is
incumbent upon the officer to articulate....probable cause to
believe that the vehicle or the driver was in violation of
some provision of the code") (citation omitted));
Supreme Court has defined probable cause as follows:
Probable cause is made out when the facts and circumstances
which are within the knowledge of the officer at the time of
the [stop], and of which he has reasonably trustworthy
information, are sufficient to warrant a man of reasonable
caution in the belief that the suspect has committed or is
committing a crime. The question we ask is not whether the
officer's belief was correct or more likely true than
false. Rather, we require only a probability, and
not a prima facie showing, of criminal activity. In
determining whether probable cause exists, we apply a
totality of the circumstances test.
Commonwealth v. Martin, 627 Pa. 623, 101 A.3d 706,
721 (2014) (citation omitted) (emphasis in original).
Pennsylvania law makes clear, however, that a police officer
has probable cause to stop a motor vehicle if the officer
observes a traffic code violation, even if it is a minor
offense. Chase, supra.
Trooper Rutter stopped Appellant's SUV for a violation of
Section 4306, which provides, in relevant part, the
§ 4306. Use of multiple-beam road lighting equipment (a)
Approaching an oncoming vehicle.-Whenever the driver of a
vehicle approaches an oncoming vehicle within 500 feet, the
driver shall use the low beam of light.
75 Pa.C.S.A. § 4306(a) (bold in original).
construing Section 4306(a) to determine its meaning, we are
guided by the following legal precepts as set forth by our
The purpose of statutory interpretation is to ascertain the
General Assembly's intent and give it effect. 1
Pa.C.S.[A.] § 1921(a). In discerning that intent, the
court first resorts to the language of the statute itself. If
the language of the statute clearly and unambiguously sets
forth the legislative intent, it is the duty of the court to
apply that intent to the case at hand and not look beyond the
statutory language to ascertain its meaning. See 1
Pa.C.S.[A.] § 1921(b) ("When the words of a statute
are clear and free from all ambiguity, the letter of it is
not to be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its
spirit."). "Relatedly, it is well established that
resort to the rules of statutory ...