Constables’ Authority to Detain following a “Breach of the Peace” Offense

Commonwealth v. Allen, 206 A.3d 1123 (Pa. Super. 2019), allocatur granted July 10, 2020, appeal docket 40 MAP 2020.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur here to examine whether constables possess the power at common law to make a warrantless arrest and detain an offender for a breach of the peace until the state police, at the instruction of the prosecutor, arrive to investigate the offender for a more serious offense.

While serving arrest warrants at a residence, constables observed a vehicle exit a highway at a high rate of speed, go airborne over an embankment, and drive into the yard of the residence. The constables found defendant Allen alone in the driver’s seat, and he appeared to be  under the influence of alcohol. The constables called the Pennsylvania State Police, who were handling other incidents first, and the on-call Adams County Assistant District Attorney and staff, who advised the constables to detain Allen for the State Police to investigate for Driving Under the Influence (DUI). The constables put Allen in the rear of his vehicle, informed him that he was unable to leave, did not provide him Miranda warnings, and for approximately an hour and a half, detained him until the State Police arrived to begin the criminal investigation. Allen was charged with several counts of DUI and summary traffic violations. Allen moved to suppress evidence obtained; the trial court granted Allen’s motion to suppress his statements made to the constables but denied Allen’s motion to suppress all other evidence related to the DUI offenses acquired by the State Police. Slip Op. at 3. Allen was tried and convicted. He appealed from the DUI judgment of sentence.

The Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s finding because it found Pennsylvania’s jurisprudence provides constables with the authority to arrest offenders “for in-presence felonies or breaches of the peace,” Slip Op. at 7, reasoning that:

In light of this Court’s understanding of what constitutes a breach of the peace for purposes of reviewing deputy sheriffs’ authority to conduct a Fourth Amendment stop, it is clear that the patently disruptive, intrusive, and dangerous nature of Appellant’s underlying conduct clearly aligns with the “breach of the peace” concept in this context.

Confronted with such conduct, the constables here acted within their common law powers when they walked to the driver’s side window, detained an ostensibly compromised Appellant in a safe manner, and immediately called the proper authorities to investigate the incident. Accordingly, we conclude there is no merit to Appellant’s argument that his detention at the hands of [the constables] until the Pennsylvania State Police arrived amounted to a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights requiring suppression of all DUI evidence subsequently obtained.

Slip Op. at 11-12.

The Supreme Court granted allocatur to examine:

After the “breach of the peace” is completed, may a constable continue to detain Petitioner indefinitely so that state police may arrive to investigate more serious offenses at the express direction of the prosecutor?

For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker.