Municipal Police Powers; DUI Checkpoints

Commonwealth v. Hlubin, 165 A.3d 1 (Pa. Super. 2017), allocatur granted Nov. 21, 2017, appeal docket 56 WAP 2017

On September 29, 2017, Hlubin was stopped by police officers from the West Hills DUI Task Force (“Task Force”), comprised of municipal police officers from fifteen jurisdictions, as part of a sobriety checkpoint on Steubenville Pike in Robinson Township, Pennsylvania. The program coordinator for the task force requested the DUI checkpoint from September 28, 2013 at 11:00 p.m. through September 29, 2013 at 4:00 a.m. to coordinate with the ending time of a local concert because historically Robinson Township had difficulty with drunk drivers following concerts at that venue and statistical analysis showed that most of the DUI arrests and crashes in Robinson Township occurred at Steubenville Pike. The Robinson Township Police authorized the check point and the required press release was issued.

An officer working the checkpoint testified regarding his interaction with Hlubin:

He testified that he explained that she was going to be asked to perform three field sobriety tests: the HGN test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-legged stand test. [Hlubin] was given instructions on how to perform each test prior to administration of the test, and understood the directions. With regard to the HGN test, Officer Sicilia was looking for six (6) clues, and observed all six (6) clues. Further, [Hlubin] exhibited two (2) out of eight (8) clues for the walk-and-turn test. [Hlubin] exhibited one (1) out of four (4) clues for the one-legged stand test. Based upon his experience with intoxicated persons, his training as a police officer, the information provided by Sergeant Ogden, and his interaction with [Hlubin], Officer Sicilia formed an opinion that [Hlubin] was incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle. Thereafter, [Hlubin] consented to a blood draw, and was found to have a blood alcohol content of .152%.

Slip Op., at 3-4. As a result, Hlubin was charged with two counts of driving under the influence (DUI). Hlubin filed a pre-trial motion to suppress, alleging that the sobriety checkpoint was unconstitutional and that everything that flowed from the illegal stop should be suppressed. Hlubin’s suppression motion was denied, and the court convicted Hlubin on both DUI counts and sentenced her to thirty days of Restrictive Intermediate Punishment, six months of non-reporting probation, and fines.

On appeal, the Superior Court considered:

(1) Did the trial court err when it ruled that the checkpoint, which led to [Hlubin’s] stop, detention, and arrest, was lawful even though the Commonwealth failed to show compliance with the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act [ (“ICA”) ]?

(2) Did the trial court err when it held that Section 8953(a)(3) [of the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act [ (“MPJA”) ] ] permits officers to leave their primary jurisdiction for the purpose of participating in a sobriety checkpoint?

Slip Op., at 5.

The Commonwealth conceded that the DUI checkpoint here did not comply with the ICA where the 15 municipalities comprising the Task Force did not jointly cooperate by each adopting an ordinance in compliance with sections 2303 and 2305. Specifically, while Robinson Township had proposed a resolution to participate with the Task Force, that resolution was not ratified and adopted by the other Task Force municipalities nor does it contain the required criteria of an ordinance under section 2307 of the ICA.

Hlubin argued:

because the ICA codifies the process that local governmental units must follow when cooperating with each other “it controls the outcome of this case as well as the legality of all sobriety checkpoints (and all government matters) when the officers from outside the primary jurisdiction are utilized.” Appellant’s Brief, at 31. Moreover, she contends that “[o]nce it is shown that the Commonwealth failed to comply with the ICA, the trial court’s decision that the checkpoint at issue was legally constituted must be reversed [or] Article IX, § 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the ICA are rendered meaningless.

The Superior Court disagreed, finding the ICA and MJPA addressed different circumstances; therefore, failure to comply with the ICA did not negate the legality of the sobriety checkpoint under the MJPA.

The Superior Court then addressed Hlubin’s argument of the legality of the sobriety checkpoint pursuant to the MJPA. Specifically, the court addressed whether the MPJA relates only to situations where a request for assistance is contemporaneous with the commission of a crime and that probable cause to believe a crime is being or has been committed is the fundamental purpose of the MPJA.

In addressing this issue, the court focused its attention on the situations delineated in Section 8953(a)(3) and (4) of the MPJA that permit officer can go outside of his or her primary jurisdiction:

(a) General rule. — Any duly employed municipal police officer who is within this Commonwealth, but beyond the territorial limits of his primary jurisdiction, shall have the power and authority to enforce the laws of this Commonwealth or otherwise perform the functions of that office as if enforcing those laws or performing those functions within the territorial limits of his primary jurisdiction in the following cases:

* * *

(3) Where the officer has been requested to aid or assist any local, State or Federal law enforcement officer or park police officer or otherwise has probable cause to believe that the other officer is in need of aid or assistance.

(4) Where the officer has obtained the prior consent of the chief law enforcement officer, or a person authorized by him to give consent, of the organized law enforcement agency which provides primary police services to a political subdivision which is beyond that officer’s primary jurisdiction to enter the other jurisdiction for the purpose of conducting official duties which arise from official matters within his primary jurisdiction.

Unable to find statutory language in section 8953(a)(3) of the MPJA that would impose a “contemporaneous” requirement upon an officer’s request for aid or assistance, the court further reasoned:

In fact, subsection 8953(a)(2), often termed the “hot pursuit” exception of the MPJA, specifically applies to those instances where an officer’s chase into a neighboring jurisdiction is “immediate, continuous, and uninterrupted.” Commonwealth v. McPeak, 708 A.2d 1263, 1266 (Pa. Super. 1998). Moreover, “it is noteworthy that the predecessor [of the MPJA] made provision for police action outside [an officer’s] primary jurisdiction in only one circumstance, i.e., hot pursuit.” Merchant, 595 A.2d at 1138-39. “The inclusion of additional instances of authorization indicates that the General Assembly intended to expand the powers of local police to protect the public, where such expansion would not adversely affect the ultimate goal of maintaining police accountability to local authority.” Id. at 1139. Thus, in light of the purpose and spirit of the MPJA, in conjunction with its liberal construction, we decline to read such a “contemporaneous” element into subsection (a)(3). Peters, supra

Slip Op., at 13-14.

Additionally, the Superior Court found that the Task Force’s arrangement represented Robinson Township’s request for aid and assistance from the Task Force to conduct a sobriety checkpoint that “served the legitimate purpose of reducing death, injury and property damage resulting from motor vehicle crashes due to intoxicated or chemically impaired drivers from the surrounding municipalities,” and was therefore authorized by section 8953(a)(3) of the MJPA.  Id., at 14.

Although the court’s ultimate conclusion was based on section 8953(a)(3) of the MPJA, it further noted that the officer working the sobriety checkpoint “may have been authorized to conduct the stop under section 8953(a)(4) where he had been given the consent of Robinson Township Police Chief Vietmeier to conduct official duties in Allegheny County as a member of the Task Force executing a joint DUI checkpoint.” Slip Op., at 10 n. 9.

The Supreme Court granted allocatur to determine the following issues:

  1. Did the Superior Court erroneously broaden municipal police powers by holding that when municipal police officers leave their primary jurisdiction for the purpose of conducting sobriety checkpoints, it is not necessary to comply with the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act, 53 Pa.C.S. §§ 2301 et. seq., by entering into written agreements and passing an ordinance because such actions are permitted under the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act?
  2. Did the Superior Court erroneously eliminate the longstanding requirement that a “crime in progress” investigation must be taking place before police officers can leave their primary jurisdiction and enter into extraterritorial forays for the purpose of conducting an investigation under section 8953(a)(3) of the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act, 42 Pa.C.S § 8953(a)(3)?
  3. Did the Superior Court erroneously eliminate the statutory requirement in section 8953(a)(4) of the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 8953(a)(4), that before a police officer can enter another jurisdiction to conduct an investigation, the crime being investigated must have taken place in the officer’s primary jurisdiction?

For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker.