Man Facing DUI Charges After Splashing Police Car With Mud Puddle

Who hasn’t seen a video on TV or on YouTube in which a driver hits a mud puddle after a recent storm and splashes a person walking nearby? I do not believe that I have ever done such a thing, but I am sure that I have been tempted when the situation arose. In a recent Lancaster County DUI case, a man drove through a puddle of water, and the water splashed through the open window of a police car. The officer was not in the car at the time but was instead putting flares around the high water area to alert drivers of the danger. According to the online article, the driver ignored the officer’s motions to him to stop and continued through the  restricted zone. The article states that the officer “tried to light several flares,” but it does not state that any flares were actually lit or that any signs regarding the driving hazard had been put in place.

After the man drove by, the officer jumped into her drenched cruiser and proceeded after the driver. Despite having a wet car, the officer was able to stop the driver, and during the ensuing traffic stop, the officer realized that the driver may have been drunk. The man was arrested for suspicion of drunk driving, and his blood alcohol level was found to be a .175%. The man was charged with Driving Under the Influence under 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3802(c) and related offenses.

Possible Defense to Pennsylvania DUI Charge

As a defense attorney that handles many DUI cases in State College, I am routinely asked how a lawyer defends a person charged with drunk driving. One issue is whether or not the officer had sufficient cause to pull over the driver. If the officer did not have sufficient cause to conduct the initial traffic stop, then the stop violated the driver’s constitutional rights against unlawful searches and seizures under the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. If the traffic stop was unlawful, a defense lawyer will file a pretrial motion seeking the suppression of all evidence that was discovered after the officer stopped the car. In a driving under the influence case like this, if all evidence is suppressed that was found after the traffic stop, then the prosecution would not have evidence of the man’s blood alcohol level to present at trial, so the man’s charges would most likely be dismissed.

A few years ago, I represented a man in a Mifflin County DUI in which he was charged with two DUI incidents in one evening. In the second DUI case, I filed motion to suppress evidence and argued that the officer didn’t have sufficient cause to conduct a traffic stop. The Lewistown judge agreed that the traffic stop violated my client’s constitutional rights and therefore suppressed the evidence. The second drunk driving case was then dismissed.

Was a Vehicle Code Violation Committed?

In this case, I believe that the man may have an argument that the officer didn’t have sufficient cause to conduct a traffic stop. According to the online article, the officer was about to light flares. It does not say that flares were lit. What signs or other apparatus were in place to inform the driver that he was not permitted to drive through the area? When a driver hits a puddle and splashes a person, it is annoying to the person and not very nice, but it is not illegal or a violation of the law. If the man was not told that he could not drive through the area by signs or other emergency indicators, then I question what traffic law was broken to justify the officer’s detention of the man. Did the officer have a reason to be annoyed that her cruiser was soaked? Absolutely. But annoying a police officer is not a reason to detain a person. A few officers have conducted traffic stops after being flipped off by drivers, and those drivers have often sued the officers for illegal arrests. Hopefully, the driver hires an experienced Lancaster DUI lawyer to take the case and review this issue.