Seven Time DUI Offender Blames Accident on Elephant in Roadway


According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a man was arrested and charged with his seventh DUI after being involved in a car accident and striking a guardrail. The  investigating officer questioned the man about the accident, and the man claimed that an elephant was crossing the roadway, so the man had to swerve to avoid striking the pachyderm. Not so surprisingly, the investigating officer noticed that the DUI suspect was “impaired.”

I have heard stories and jokes that people using drugs often see a pink elephant, but I have never heard of a drunk person seeing any color of elephant. Had the man simply stuck with the classic excuse that he swerved off the road to avoid striking a deer, cat, or dog, would he have avoided the DUI arrest?

DUI Arrest Requires Probable Cause

Almost everyone will recall from their high school history classes that the U.S. Constitution requires that an officer have probable cause to believe that a person committed a criminal offense before the officer can lawfully arrest the person. If the officer does not have sufficient probable cause to arrest, then a criminal defense attorney is likely to seek suppression of evidence obtained after the unlawful arrest as the arrest violated the criminal defendant’s constitutional rights. In the DUI context, the officer only discovers the DUI suspect’s blood alcohol level after the arrest, so, if the arrest is unconstitutional, then a judge is likely to suppress evidence of the blood alcohol results.

What Is “Probable Cause” in Pennsylvania DUI Case

“Probable cause” requires an officer to have sufficient information to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that the suspect has committed or is committing a crime, and the officer considers all the facts and circumstances within his knowledge as a trained police officer. In practice, probable cause is what a judge ultimately says it is after the judge reviews all the relevant facts and circumstances.

In a Pennsylvania DUI investigation, officers consider various factors in determining whether probable cause exists to justify a DUI arrest. The officer often considers the DUI suspect’s appearance, actions, driving, and performance on field sobriety tests. The officer considers the suspect’s driving. Did the officer stop the suspect because he was speeding or because he was swerving from lane to lane on the roadway? Was the suspect involved in an accident that was weather-related or because of an elephant? The officer also takes note of general intoxication indicators, such as blood shot, glassy eyes, slurred speech, difficulty standing, swaying, fumbling with the license, registration, and insurance paperwork, and the suspect’s responses to questions.

Pennsylvania DUI Investigation – Field Sobriety Tests & Breath Tests

Officers also generally attempt to administer field sobriety tests, with the most common tests being the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk-And-Turn, and One-Legged Stand. In Pennsylvania, a DUI suspect is NOT required to perform such tests. If a person does attempt to complete the tests and fails to perform them satisfactorily, then the officer has more evidence to support probable cause to justify an arrest. If the person refuses to perform the tests, the officer can still arrest the suspect if the officer has other evidence that amounts to probable cause.

Officers also often try to have the DUI suspect blow into a Portable Breath Test or Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) device. While the actual reading on a PBT is not  admissible in court because of its lack of accuracy, many officers do base their decision on whether to arrest a DUI suspect based upon the PBT reading. In Pennsylvania, a person can refuse to submit to the PBT and said refusal does not result in a suspension of Pennsylvania driving privileges. If a person is arrested for a DUI, then the officer is authorized to require the person to submit to an alcohol concentration test, and the officer is obligated to inform that DUI suspect that a failure to submit to the testing will result in an increase in DUI penalties and an administrative suspension of driving privileges.

If you are driving through Pennsylvania and happen to see an elephant crossing sign, I recommend that you slow down and proceed with caution.  If you or a friend has been charged with a Centre County DUI, contact State College criminal defense lawyer Jason S. Dunkle for a free consultation.