Criminal Lawyer Update: Lines in the Sand for Hot and Fresh Pursuit

by | Mar 12, 2008

The facts of this case present a great example of how movies can mislead — and Judge Bender of the PA Superior does a fine job of pointing that out in this DUI case by evoking a scene from Smokey and the Bandit in Commonwealth v. Hilliar, 2008 Pa. Super. 22 (2008). In Hilliar, a police officer ran a car’s tags, and learned that the owner of the car had a suspended license. The officer had information on the description of the owner of the car and the operator of the car fit the description.

Then, suspecting that the owner of the car was driving with a suspended license, the police officer made the decision to stop the defendant while he was within his municipal limits of West York Borough, but didn’t get the stop done there. The police officer followed the defendant through an intersection and decided not to actually initiate the stop until the driver passed the intersection for safety reasons. On the other side of the intersection, the officer hit the overhead lights and sirens and initiated a vehicle stop. The other side of that intersection, however, was past the Borough line. Although the defendant was then stopped for suspicion of driving with a suspended license, once the police officer approached the car there were signs that the defendant had a few too many drinks before getting behind the wheel, and the police officer arrested him for DUI.

The defendant asked the court to suppress evidence obtained from an unlawful stop, claiming the the police officer violated the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act (“MPJA”). The trial court didn’t agree and neither did the Superior Court. The Superior Court held that, although the police officer did not form probable cause to believe that a crime was being committed, and probable cause is required under the MPJA before a police officer can engage in hot and fresh pursuit over municipal lines, this was a “relatively minor infraction” by the police officer and that the suppression of evidence was not warranted.

In its reasoning, the Superior Court noted that the MPJA must be construed liberally to promote public safety while maintaining police accountability, and should not be used to benefit defendants by allowing them to suppress evidence on technicalities. However, the best part of the Court’s reasoning was its reference to Smokey and the Bandit, stating: “[The defendant] would have this Court hold that law enforcement officers should step on the brakes at the borough line and watch the suspected criminal drive away on safe ground.”

Although I like it when the suspects cross jurisdictional lines and taunt the police from the other side in movies, I guess it doesn’t work in real life. Don’t try this at home!

If you enjoyed this post, check out this article about criminal defense.

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