Commonwealth v. Bridgeford

Decision Date13 May 2022
Docket Number670 EDA 2021,J-A07032-22
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court


Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence Entered March 3, 2021 In the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-46-CR-0002150-2020




Appellant Vann Bridgeford, appeals from the judgment of sentence entered in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas following his bench trial conviction for driving under the influence ("DUI").[1] We affirm.

The trial court set forth the relevant facts and procedural history of this case as follows:

On December 22, 2019, at approximately 1:40 am, Lavar Stevens ("Mr. Stevens"), a security guard at The Wyncote Towers for Cardinal Point, located at 8470 Limekiln Pike, in Cheltenham Township, Montgomery County, received a call that an individual, later identified as [Appellant], had run his vehicle into the metal garage door of Building Two. Responding immediately, Mr. Stevens arrived at the lobby level garage entryway of Building Two to find [Appellant], seated behind the wheel of his still-running Porsche Panamera which had been driven into the Building's garage door. After asking [Appellant] if he was alright, Mr. Stevens asked [Appellant], the sole occupant of the vehicle, to shut the vehicle's engine off. Returning to his security rover to contact police and write up a report of the incident, Mr. Stevens heard [Appellant] restart his vehicle, and turned to observe [Appellant] reverse, and then drive his vehicle again into the garage door. Alarmed by [Appellant]'s behavior, Mr. Stevens immediately called 911 and the police arrived minutes later.
Upon arrival, Officers Nicholas O'Connor ("Ofc. O'Connor") and Dave Choi ("Ofc. Choi") of the Cheltenham Township Police Department spoke briefly with Mr. Stevens before approaching [Appellant], still seated behind the wheel of his vehicle, impacting the garage door as a result of which was crushed at the bottom. Upon reaching [Appellant]'s open driver side window, Ofc. O'Connor observed that, in addition to exhibiting telltale signs of alcohol intoxication, including bloodshot eyes, heavily slurred speech, a disheveled appearance, and an odor [of] alcohol, [Appellant]'s pants were also inexplicably wet and he appeared baffled and perplexed by the circumstances in which he found himself. During the interaction, [Appellant], whose speech was slurred, appeared to be on his cell speaking with someone, continued his call while Ofc. O'Connor attempted to learn [Appellant]'s identity and what had happened. He also repeatedly asked [Appellant] for his license and registration to no avail, and instead, [Appellant] responded incorrectly that his name was "Shawn," and was unable to explain how his vehicle had crashed into the lowered garage door.
Following the initial interaction, [Appellant] departed the vehicle where he almost stumbled into Ofc. O'Connor. [Appellant], unsteady on his feet, was assisted to the police cruiser which furthered Ofc. O'Connor's belief of [Appellant]'s intoxication. Ultimately, [Appellant] admitted both that he had been drinking a few hours earlier at the residence of his mother, located at 4945 Fairhill Street, Philadelphia, and left her home after midnight, to drive back to the Towers where he lives with his girlfriend. Ofc. O'Connor did not conduct any field sobriety test at the time because [Appellant] clearly displayed signs of intoxication and the potential danger of [Appellant] harming himself when performing the test. Given [Appellant]'s unsteady gate, disheveled appearance, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and odor of alcohol, Ofc. O'Connor determined, based on his experience and training that [Appellant] was incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle and proceeded to place [Appellant] under arrest for driving under the influence. Once in the police cruiser, Ofc. O'Connor read [Appellant] the PennDOT DL-26 form twice.

(Trial Court Opinion, filed June 25, 2021, at 1-3). On March 3, 2021, following a bench trial, the court convicted Appellant of DUI and sentenced him to 48 hours of house arrest. Appellant timely filed a notice of appeal on March 26, 2021. On April 14, 2021, the court ordered Appellant to file a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) concise statement of errors complained of on appeal, and Appellant timely complied on May 27, 2021.

Appellant now raises one issue for our review:

Whether the Commonwealth failed to present sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction for 75 Pa.C.S. § 3802(a)(1), Driving Under the Influence (DUI), where the Commonwealth did not introduce evidence to establish that Appellant drove on a "Highway" or "Trafficway" while intoxicated or impaired, as required under 75 Pa.C.S. § 3101, and as those terms are defined by 75 Pa.C.S. § 102.

(Appellant's Brief at 4).

Appellant argues that the area in which he was found operating his car while intoxicated is not open to the public for vehicle traffic and can only be accessed via key card or permission from security. Therefore, Appellant avers that the area is not a "highway" or "trafficway" as defined by Section 102 of the Motor Vehicle Code, but more akin to a private road or driveway. Appellant maintains that there was insufficient evidence to establish that he drove his vehicle outside of this private area while intoxicated. Appellant stresses that the Commonwealth presented no evidence that he was intoxicated such that he was rendered incapable of safely driving a vehicle when he was driving on a public road. Appellant concludes the Commonwealth presented insufficient evidence to establish that he drove while intoxicated on a highway or trafficway which is a material element of DUI, and this Court must vacate his judgment of sentence. We disagree.

Our standard and scope of review in this case are as follows:

The standard we apply in reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence is whether viewing all the evidence admitted at trial in the light most favorable to the verdict winner, there is sufficient evidence to enable the fact-finder to find every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In applying [the above] test, we may not weigh the evidence and substitute our judgment for the fact-finder. In addition, we note that the facts and circumstances established by the Commonwealth need not preclude every possibility of innocence. Any doubts regarding a defendant's guilt may be resolved by the fact-finder unless the evidence is so weak and inconclusive that as a matter of law no probability of fact may be drawn from the combined circumstances. The Commonwealth may sustain its burden of proving every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt by means of wholly circumstantial evidence. Moreover, in applying the above test, the entire record must be evaluated and all evidence actually received must be considered. Finally, the [finder] of fact while passing upon the credibility of witnesses and the weight of the evidence produced, is free to believe all, part or none of the evidence.

Commonwealth v. Jones, 874 A.2d 108, 120-21 (Pa.Super. 2005) (quoting Commonwealth v. Bullick, 830 A.2d 998, 1000 (Pa.Super. 2003)).

The Motor Vehicle Code defines the offense of DUI-general impairment as follows:

§ 3802. Driving under influence of alcohol or controlled substance
(a) General impairment.-
(1) An individual may not drive, operate or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle after imbibing a sufficient amount of alcohol such that the individual is rendered incapable of safely driving, operating or being in actual physical control of the movement of the vehicle.

75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3802(a)(1).

Section 3101 of the Motor Vehicle Code provides that: "The provisions of…Chapter 38 (relating to driving after imbibing alcohol or utilizing drugs) shall apply upon highways and trafficways throughout this Commonwealth." 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3101. Thus, an essential element of DUI is that a vehicle has been operated on a highway or trafficway while the operator of the vehicle is under the influence of alcohol. See Commonwealth v. Zabierowsky, 730 A.2d 987, 989 (Pa.Super. 1999). The Motor Vehicle Code defines "highway" and "trafficway" as follows:

§ 102. Definitions
Subject to additional definitions contained in subsequent provisions of this title which are applicable to specific provisions of this title, the following words and phrases when used in this title shall have, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise, the meanings given to them in this section:
"Highway." The entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.
The term includes a roadway open to the use of the public for vehicular travel on grounds of a college or university or public or private school or public or historical park.
"Trafficway." The entire width between property lines or other boundary lines of every way or place of which any part is open to the public for purposes of vehicular travel as a matter of right or custom.

75 Pa.C.S.A. § 102.

"Pennsylvania law recognizes that roadways in private areas, or areas restricted to permit-holders, can still meet the 'public use' requirement for purposes of Sections 3101, 102 and the DUI statute." Commonwealth v. Lees, 135 A.3d 185, 189 (Pa.Super. 2016). "Even if restricted by signs, if a parking lot is used by members of the public, it is a trafficway for purposes of 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3101." Commonwealth v. Wilson, 553 A.2d 452 454 (Pa.Su...

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