Commonwealth v. Haines, 1316 WDA 2016

CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania
Citation166 A.3d 449
Docket NumberNo. 1316 WDA 2016,1316 WDA 2016
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Douglas Nelson HAINES, Appellant
Decision Date30 June 2017

166 A.3d 449

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee
Douglas Nelson HAINES, Appellant

No. 1316 WDA 2016

Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

Argued February 22, 2017
Filed June 30, 2017

Jack W. Cline, Mercer, for appellant.

Robert H. Hartley, Jr., Assistant District Attorney, Mercer, for Commonwealth, appellee.



Douglas Nelson Haines appeals from the August 26, 2016 judgment of sentence entered in the Mercer County Court of Common Pleas following his bench trial conviction for driving under the influence ("DUI")—highest rate of alcohol.1 We affirm.

The trial court, in disposing of Haines' motion to suppress, set forth the following factual history:

2. On October 3, 2015, [Pennsylvania State Police] Trooper [James] Mason was working the midnight shift. A second trooper, Yurna,[2 ] was in the vehicle with him.

3. Sometime around 4:00 a.m., Trooper Mason received a dispatch of a possible accident on North Cottage Road in Jackson Township, Mercer County, Pennsylvania. The caller did not see the accident, nor could the caller identify anyone in the accident. The caller simply reported that he heard what sounded like an accident.

4. Within three to four minutes Trooper Mason arrived at the scene. At some point a second marked cruiser also arrived at the scene.

5. Upon arrival, the troopers discovered a 2012 black Jeep Grand Cherokee that had gone off the road and had skidded into a small wooded area causing moderate damage to the vehicle. Various windows in the vehicle were broken but still intact such that a person could not have been thrown through the window, and several airbags had deployed.

6. The troopers approached the vehicle to determine if someone was hurt or worse. They found no one in the Jeep or in the immediate area.

7. When the troopers investigated the Jeep itself, they saw no signs of blood and could make no determination as to whether or not someone was injured in that accident.

8. Trooper Mason ran the Jeep's registration plate, and it came back to ... Douglas Nelson Haines, of ... Grove City, Pennsylvania. Trooper Mason also obtained Haines' driver's license information, which included his physical description
166 A.3d 452
and a driver's license photograph.

9. The area of the accident was a dark, rural area with no street lights. Rain was moderate to heavy. The blacktop road was wet. There was very little traffic on this secondary road at the time of Trooper Mason's investigation, although it is possible that the local paper deliveryman had passed.

10. At the scene, Trooper Mason called for a tow truck. The troopers in the second car drove around the surrounding area looking for pedestrians, but no one was located.

11. Trooper Mason waited in his car for a tow truck, sitting in the south bound lane facing north toward the accident, with headlights and emergency light[s] on.

12. Approximately ten minutes after Trooper Mason arrived at the scene while he was parked in the driveway awaiting the tow truck, he saw in his rearview mirror a vehicle approach. This vehicle was travelling north in the northbound lane. Trooper Mason observed the vehicle stop about a half a mile behind (to the south) of where the Trooper's vehicle was located. The vehicle stopped on the roadway and remained stopped for approximately 10 to 15 seconds.

13. This vehicle then continued driving in a northerly direction and ultimately passed Trooper Mason. Because it was dark and raining, the Trooper could not determine who or how many people were in the vehicle. The car was travelling at an appropriate speed and as it travelled it was not violating the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code.

14. As this vehicle passed Trooper Mason's position, he observed the car's registration plate and ran the same. The registration came back to a Samuel Haines, showing the owner's address as ... Latonka Drive in Mercer, Pennsylvania. The last name "Haines" was spelled the same way as the last name on the owner of the crashed vehicle. It was Trooper Mason's impression that the second vehicle had pulled up possibly to pick up the operator of the first vehicle.

15. Once Trooper Mason discovered the name of the registered owner of the vehicle, he effectuated a stop of that vehicle, which took place approximately one half mile north of the accident scene. The vehicle stopped appropriately.

16. Trooper Mason observed a female driving the vehicle and an individual in the front passenger seat who he identified as Haines based upon the driver's license picture obtained from running the crashed vehicle's plates.

17. North Cottage Road provides access to the Lake Latonka area.

18. Trooper Mason believed he had reasonable suspicion to stop the second car given its proximity to the accident scene, the fact that the car had stopped on the roadway for 10 to 15 seconds, and because the registered owner's last name was the same last name as that of [Haines].

19. The distance between Grove City and Mercer is approximately nine miles. The distance between Mercer and the Pennsylvania State Police barracks is an additional five miles. Grove City and Mercer are two distinct municipalities.

20. There was no testimony as to the identity of the female driver of the car in which [Haines] was a passenger, that the female driver was authorized to drive this car, or that [Haines] had a possessory interest in the car.

21. Trooper Mason detected an odor of alcohol emanating from the vehicle
166 A.3d 453
and asked Haines to exit. Haines lost his balance on the roadway and smelled of alcohol, so Trooper Mason effectuated a field sobriety test which Haines failed.

22. Trooper Mason arrested Haines for D.U.I. and read him Implied Consent, O'Connell[3 ] Warnings, and Mirandized him. Mr. Haines ultimately did admit to being the operator of the vehicle. He said he swerved to miss a deer, and that's how he lost control.

23. At 5:15 a.m., Haines was transported to Grove City Hospital where lab technician Lana Lewis withdrew Haines' blood sample. The sample was sent to the Erie Regional Laboratory, which determined that Haines had a blood alcohol content [ ("BAC") ] of .244%.


On October 23, 2015, Haines was charged with D.U.I. General impairment ( 75 Pa.C.S. § 3802(a)(1) ) and D.U.I. Highest rate of alcohol ( 75 Pa.C.S. § 3802(c) ). On March 23rd, 2016, Haines filed an omnibus pretrial motion which challenged the constitutionality of the stop and search conducted by Trooper Mason, and requested the suppression of all evidence obtained after the traffic stop.

Trial Ct. Suppression Adj., 6/9/16, at 1–5. On May 4, 2016, the trial court held a hearing on the motion to suppress. On June 9, 2016, the trial court denied the motion to suppress. On June 24, 2016, after a bench trial, Haines was convicted of DUI—highest rate of alcohol; he was acquitted of DUI—general impairment.

On August 3, 2016, Haines filed a motion in arrest of judgment based on the United States Supreme Court's decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota, –––U.S. ––––, 136 S.Ct. 2160, 195 L.Ed.2d 560 (2016). Haines claimed that because the Birchfield Court "held that a warrant [is] required to obtain a blood sample in a [DUI] prosecution," and "[Haines'] blood sample [was] obtained ... without a warrant[,] ... no charges remain viable against [Haines], and judgment should be arrested."4 Mot. in Arrest of Judg., 8/3/16, ¶ 4–5, 7. On August 4, 2016, the trial court denied Haines' motion.

On August 26, 2016, the trial court sentenced Haines to incarceration of 90 days to 18 months, followed by six months' probation. In its order, the trial court permitted Haines, after serving time in the Mercer County Jail, to serve the remaining 80 days of his minimum sentence on electronic house arrest and made Haines eligible for work release during his incarceration or house arrest. Further, the trial court granted Haines automatic parole at the conclusion of his minimum sentence if "he has obeyed the rules and regulations of the Mercer County Jail and the house arrest program[.]"5 Sent. Order, 8/26/16, at 2. On September 1, 2016, Haines timely filed his notice of appeal.6

Haines raises two issues on appeal:

1. Was the traffic stop and seizure of the Samuel Haines vehicle based
166 A.3d 454
upon "coincidence" constitutionally justified?

2. Did the Sentencing Court err in refusing to Arrest Judgment of the BAC count, based upon the Birchfield case?

Haines' Br. at 6 (suggested answers omitted).

I. Validity of Stop

First, Haines argues that the stop of the second vehicle, registered to Samuel Haines, was unconstitutional. In reviewing the denial of a suppression motion, we must determine

whether the suppression court's factual findings are supported by the record and whether the legal conclusions drawn from those facts are correct. Because the Commonwealth prevailed before the suppression court, we may consider only the evidence of the Commonwealth and so much of the evidence for the defense as remains uncontradicted when read in the context of the record as a whole. Where the suppression court's factual findings are supported by the record, we are bound by these findings and may reverse only if the court's legal conclusions are erroneous. Where, as here, the appeal of the determination

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