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PA Supreme Court: Philly Prosecutors Can't Try You Separately For DUI and Related Traffic Violations

Philadelphia DUI Defense Attorney Zak Goldstein

Philadelphia DUI Defense Attorney Zak Goldstein

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Perfetto, holding that Philadelphia prosecutors may not file more serious misdemeanor or felony charges against a defendant who has already been tried in traffic court for summary offenses arising from the same incident. This means that if you were arrested by the police, charged with DUI, and also received traffic tickets like a ticket for reckless driving and the traffic case has been resolved, you cannot be prosecuted for the DUI. This happens frequently in Philadelphia because traffic court cases go to trial much more quickly than criminal trials. Although this may seem like a loophole to some, it is actually a question of fundamental fairness as prosecutors simply should not be allowed to charge a defendant in multiple different courts for the same conduct. Doing so requires the defendant to take off multiple days from work, pay more in attorney’s fees, and potentially receive separate sentences for the same incident. This is an extremely significant decision because it could result in the dismissal of numerous cases.

The facts of Commonwealth v. Perfetto

On July 3, 2014, the defendant was operating a motor vehicle in Philadelphia. The police stopped him and issued him a citation because he was driving without his lights on as required by 75 Pa. C.S.A. § 4302. The officer then determined that the defendant was also driving under the influence of a controlled substance. In addition to issuing the traffic tickets, they subsequently arrested him and charged him with DUI. In Philadelphia, when someone is issued a traffic citation and charged with a more serious criminal offense at the same time, the cases are not usually joined together. Instead, defendants have traditionally had to resolve the traffic citations in traffic court and the criminal case in the Philadelphia Municipal Court.

Prior to the resolution of the criminal charges, the defendant was found guilty, in absentia, on the summary traffic offense in the traffic court. The traffic court is a division of the Philadelphia Municipal Court. After his conviction, the defendant had a preliminary hearing for his DUI charges and he was held for court on all charges. In Philadelphia, if a defendant is charged with a felony, he will have a preliminary hearing in Municipal Court. If the court determines there is enough evidence for a case to go to trial, then the defendant will be held for court, and the case will be transferred to the Court of Common Pleas.

Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 110

At his trial, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the DUI charge against him because he had already been found guilty of the traffic offense. His defense attorney argued that 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 110 ( “Rule 110”) prohibits subsequent prosecutions that arise from the same criminal episode when the defendant has previously been convicted in the same court. Thus, he argued that because the defendant was found guilty in Municipal Court - Traffic Division for his traffic offense, and his traffic offense was part of the same incident as his alleged DUI, the Municipal Court - Criminal Division should dismiss the DUI case.

The trial court heard oral arguments on the defendant’s motion. The Commonwealth argued that Rule 110 should not apply because summary traffic offenses must be tried in the traffic division of the Philadelphia Municipal Court. Further, because the traffic division lacked the jurisdiction to hear the DUI charge, the two charges could not be tried at the same time. In other words, the Commonwealth argued that for all intents and purposes, the traffic division is a separate court and thus Rule 110 did not apply to the defendant’s case and his motion should be denied. At the conclusion of the arguments, the trial court agreed with the defendant and dismissed the DUI charges against him.

The Commonwealth’s Appeal to the Superior Court

The Commonwealth filed a notice of appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. On appeal, a divided en banc panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the trial court’s decision. The Superior Court engaged in a complex and convoluted jurisdictional analysis of Philadelphia’s Municipal Court and held that defendants who are charged with a traffic offense in Philadelphia must have the traffic offenses tried in the traffic division of the Municipal Court, regardless of whether the defendant is also charged with non-traffic offenses. Thus, according to the Superior Court, Rule 110 did not apply when a defendant was previously convicted or acquitted of a traffic offense. The defendant filed a petition for allowance of appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted the appeal.

What is Rule 110?

 Rule 110 is the codified version of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Commonwealth v. Campana. The Campana Court held that the Double Jeopardy clause requires the Commonwealth to bring all known charges arising from a single criminal episode against a defendant in one proceeding. The Pennsylvania legislature wrote this into law in Rule 110.

How do you win a Rule 110 motion?

In order to win a Rule 110 motion and obtain the dismissal of charges based on the existence of a prior prosecution, the defendant must be able to show four things. The defense must show:

First, the former prosecution resulted in an acquittal or a conviction.

Second, the current prosecution was based on the same criminal conduct or arose from the same criminal episode as the former prosecution.

Third, the prosecution was aware of all the charges when the former prosecution commenced.

Finally, all of the charges were within the same jurisdictional district.

If all of these requirements are met then the Commonwealth is prohibited from prosecuting the defendant.

The Commonwealth Cannot Prosecute You Twice If You’ve Already Been Convicted of Summary Offenses From The Same incident

In a divided opinion, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the Superior Court’s decision. The majority opinion found that this was a straightforward case of statutory interpretation and that the language of Rule 110 is clear and unambiguous. The Court found that all four elements of Rule 110 were met. Specifically, the defendant was found guilty for driving without lights, his DUI case arose out of the same episode as his driving without lights conviction, the prosecutor was aware of this conviction, and finally, his traffic conviction occurred in the same judicial district as his DUI case. Because all of the elements of Rule 110 were met, the Commonwealth was barred from prosecuting the defendant’s DUI case due to the prior traffic case.

Additionally, the majority opinion found that there was no rule that prohibited the Commonwealth from prosecuting the defendant’s traffic offense with his DUI charge. The Commonwealth’s argument that traffic cases must be prosecuted in the traffic division of Municipal Court was not accurate because the Commonwealth had the option of trying the defendant for the summary traffic citations in the criminal case. The majority opinion also reiterated that a summary offense can trigger Double Jeopardy protections, even though the consequences are usually less severe than those of a misdemeanor or a felony. Finally, the majority opinion acknowledged that this will cause problems for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, but nonetheless the Commonwealth is still precluded from prosecuting the defendant’s case due to Rule 110 and the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. .

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

Criminal Defense Lawyers Zak Goldstein and Demetra Mehta

Criminal Defense Lawyers Zak Goldstein and Demetra Mehta

If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have successfully obtained full acquittals and other successful results in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, Rape, DUI, and Murder. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.

PA Supreme Court: Concerns About Officer Safety Do Not Justify Suspicionless Seizure of Motorist

PA Supreme Court: Concerns About Officer Safety Do Not Justify Suspicionless Seizure of Motorist

In the recent case of Commonwealth v. Adams, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reiterated once again that police cannot conduct a stop without reasonable suspicion, and a stop occurs when a reasonable person would not feel free to leave due to some action taken by the officer.

PA Superior Court Approves Current Philadelphia Police DUI Checkpoint Procedures

PA Superior Court Approves Current Philadelphia Police DUI Checkpoint Procedures

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Mercado, holding that Philadelphia Police conducted a constitutional DUI checkpoint despite the fact that the officer who planned the checkpoint selected the location of the checkpoint without any data indicating how many DUIs have occurred at the location of the checkpoint.

PA Superior Court: Pulling Over to the Side of Road Is Not Suspicious

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The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Hampton, holding that police illegally stopped the defendant by physically blocking in his car after the officer saw the defendant do nothing more than pull over to the side of the road. In Hampton, the Court rejected the idea that an officer can stop someone under the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement just because they pulled over to the side of the road.

The Facts of Commonwealth v. Hampton

In Hampton, a Montgomery County, PA  police officer was on patrol in a marked vehicle at approximately 3:22 am. The officer saw a vehicle drive by her, turn, and then pull over into a field on a property belonging to a church. The driver, who was later identified as the defendant, stopped his car in the grass in front of the church’s office building. The officer pulled behind the car, but she did not activate her lights or sirens. She did, however, park her car in such a way that the car blocked the defendant’s ability to drive back onto the road. The defendant and his passenger eventually got out of their vehicle, and after an interaction with the officer, the officer ended up arresting the defendant for Driving Under the Influence.

The Motion to Suppress

After prosecutors charged the defendant with DUI, the defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress all of the evidence. The defendant argued that the officer stopped the defendant by physically blocking his car with her car without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. At the hearing on the motion to suppress, the officer admitted that she had “stopped” the defendant and that her car physically blocked his. She also admitted that she had not seen any evidence of ongoing criminal activity or motor vehicle code violations. However, she testified that she pulled in behind the defendant because she was concerned that he could be having some kind of medical emergency or car trouble. She also had not activated her lights or sirens. The trial court denied the motion to suppress. Because this was the defendant’s third DUI offense, the court sentenced the defendant to 1 – 5 years’ state incarceration.

The Superior Court Appeal

The defendant appealed the denial of the motion to suppress to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The Superior Court ultimately overturned the conviction and found that the trial court should have granted the motion.

First, the Superior Court concluded that although the officer did not activate her lights or sirens or specifically tell the defendant to stop, the officer had stopped the defendant by physically blocking the movement of his car. Because the officer had conducted a stop for Fourth Amendment purposes, the officer was required to have reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or some other exception to the warrant requirement.

Second, the Superior Court concluded that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop the defendant because the officer candidly testified at the motion to suppress hearing that she did not see any criminal activity of any kind.

Third, the Superior Court rejected the trial court’s conclusion that the stop was justified by the community caretaking exception. Under the community caretaking exception, police may conduct a warrantless search or seizure under limited circumstances such as to render emergency aid when such aid is reasonably necessary. In order for the exception to apply, the officer’s actions must be motivated by a desire to render aid or assistance rather than the investigation of criminal activity. Additionally, the officer must be able to point to specific, objective, and articulable facts that would reasonably suggest to an experienced officer that a citizen is in need of assistance. Thus, the officer must have reasonably believed that an actual emergency was ongoing.

Here, the Superior Court rejected the application of the community caretaking exception because the defendant did nothing more than pull over to the side of the road. Such behavior is encouraged and perfectly consistent with innocent activity. A motorist may pull over the road to answer the phone, rest for a moment, check a map, or for any number of other legitimate reasons. Therefore, the community caretaking exception did not apply. Accordingly, the Court reversed the defendant’s conviction and remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to grant the motion to suppress.

This is a good case for Fourth Amendment rights because the Superior Court recognized the obvious fact that when a police officer in a marked car blocks someone’s ability to drive away, the officer has stopped that person for Fourth Amendment purposes. In many cases, courts attempt to characterize contact between police and defendants as a “mere encounter” which does not require any level of suspicion. Here, the Court recognized that any reasonable person in the defendant’s position would not have felt free to leave and therefore a stop had occurred. 

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

Goldstein Mehta LLC Criminal Defense Lawyers

Goldstein Mehta LLC Criminal Defense Lawyers

If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in state and federal courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have obtained full acquittals and dismissals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, DUI, Rape, and Attempted Murder. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.