Improper Questioning of Passenger During Traffic Stop

Penn State police officers initiated a traffic stop of a car that had a burned out headlight. The driver of the car was arrested for suspicion of a driving under the influence of marijuana. The Client was a passenger in the vehicle, and both the client and another passenger were ordered to exit the vehicle. The police requested and received the client’s driver’s license. The police officer then questioned the client about whether or not she had been drinking alcohol. The client allegedly admitted to having consumed Four Loco beers. The officer noted that the client had red, glassy eyes, and a breath test (PBT) evidence an alcohol reading of .02%. The client received a summary citation for Underage Drinking under 18 Pa.C.S.A. 6308.

At the State College summary trial, experienced Penn State criminal defense attorney Jason S. Dunkle objected when the officer tried to testify about the breath test results, and the officer conceded that the breath test was not admissible at a summary non-traffic trial. Therefore, the PBT evidence was not considered by the judge. Attorney Dunkle also argued that the client’s admission to drinking Four Locos was not admissible as an admission because the officer did not have sufficient evidence to prove that the drink was a “malt or brewed beverage.” Circumstantial evidence that a client consumed or possessed a “malt or brewed beverage” can be sufficient to obtain a conviction of Underage Drinking. However, in this case, the officer did not have a copy of the Pennsylvania Bulletin to evidence that Four Loco beer was .05% or higher of alcohol by volume, so the officer had insufficient evidence to prove that Four Loco was a “malt or brewed beverage.” Finally, the defense lawyer argued that the police officer did not have reasonable suspicion to believe that the client had been involved in any criminal activity that would have justified his investigative detention of the client.

The State College judge agreed that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to believe that the client was involved in any criminal activity. Therefore, the detention violated the client’s 4th Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. All evidence found as a result of the unconstitutional detention was suppressed. The judge found the client not guilty of Underage Drinking. The Penn State expungement attorney filed an expungement petition to have the charge removed from the client’s criminal record.