Commonwealth v. Hlubin

Decision Date31 May 2019
Docket NumberNo. 56 WAP 2017,56 WAP 2017
Citation208 A.3d 1032
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Molly HLUBIN, Appellant
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court
OPINION

JUSTICE DONOHUE

This discretionary appeal addresses the interplay between the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act, 53 Pa.C.S. §§ 2301 – 2317 (the "ICA"), and the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act. 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 8951 – 8954 ("MPJA"). An en banc panel of the Superior Court ruled that Appellant Molly Hlubin's ("Hlubin") stop and arrest at a sobriety checkpoint in Robinson Township, conducted by a task force that included police officers from a number of other municipalities operating outside of their primary jurisdictions, was lawful. According to the Superior Court, formation of the task force did not require compliance with the ICA, as the MPJA contains exceptions to the general limitation on police activities outside of an officer's primary jurisdiction. For the reasons set forth herein, we reverse the decision of the Superior Court. The sobriety checkpoint task force at issue required compliance with the ICA, as none of the exceptions in the MPJA authorized the extraterritorial police activities performed here.

On September 29, 2013, at approximately 12:25 a.m., Hlubin was driving along Steubenville Pike in Robinson Township when she was stopped and questioned at a sobriety checkpoint. N.T., 3/13/2015, at 30-31. Sergeant Douglas Ogden ("Sergeant Ogden") from the Moon Township police department stopped Hlubin and requested her driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. Id. at 31. He detected an odor of alcohol and observed that her speech was slurred. Id. at 31-32. Upon questioning, Hlubin admitted that she drank a shot and a beer that night. Id. at 32. Sergeant Ogden then escorted Hlubin to a testing area, where Robinson Township Police Officer Dominic Sicilia took over and directed her to perform sobriety tests. Id. at 33. Based upon her performance and the information he learned from Sergeant Ogden, Officer Sicilia placed Hlubin under arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence ("DUI"). Id. at 63-67. Hlubin consented to a blood draw, which was performed by a phlebotomist stationed in a nearby trailer on site. Id. Based upon the results of the blood testing, she was charged with two counts of DUI.1

On March 9, 2015, Hlubin filed an omnibus pretrial motion asserting, inter alia, that Sergeant Ogden "was acting outside of his primary jurisdiction when he was operating a sobriety checkpoint in Robinson Township" and therefore, did not have the authority to conduct the stop and detention. See Omnibus PreTrial Motion, 3/9/2015, at 7.2 Hlubin maintained that the task force did not comply with the ICA and that no exceptions set forth in the MPJA permitted members of the task force to operate outside of their primary jurisdiction. She sought suppression of all evidence gathered during her unauthorized and unlawful detention and dismissal of all charges. Id. at 8-9.

At a suppression hearing on March 13, 2015, the Commonwealth presented evidence to show both that the task force was in compliance with the statutory requirements in the ICA and that Sergeant Ogden's presence at the checkpoint was authorized by certain exceptions in the MPJA permitting police actions outside of an officer's primary jurisdiction. The Commonwealth asserted that the task force was "set up between the police forces themselves," with "their chiefs themselves sign[ing] off" on the individual checkpoints. N.T., 3/13/2015, at 102. Sergeant Ogden testified, identifying himself as the program coordinator and project manager for the "Western PA DUI task force,"3 a group comprised of law enforcement officers from fifteen municipal police departments and the City of Pittsburgh. As the program coordinator and project manager, Sergeant Ogden trains police officers in conducting the task force's sobriety checkpoints. Id. at 9, 14. This training adheres to procedural guidelines laid out in a manual, entitled the "West Hills DUI task force policy and procedural guidelines," which was entered into evidence. Id. at 14. Sergeant Ogden also testified that he annually applies for and administers a grant to fund the task force. Id. at 10-11.

With respect to the sobriety checkpoint on September 29, 2013, Sergeant Ogden explained that its location on Steubenville Pike in Robinson Township was selected because that area has been an "ongoing problem" when a nearby concert venue lets out. Id. at 11-12. In support of this contention, he cited to statistics regarding the number of DUI arrests, crashes and fatalities on that road dating back to 2008. Id. at 11-12. Having selected this location, Sergeant Ogden indicated that he, along with Sergeant Joel Hamilton of the Robinson Township police department, scheduled a checkpoint on the night of a concert, starting at 11 p.m. on September 28, 2013 and ending at 4 a.m. the next day. Sergeant Hamilton and Robinson Township Police Chief Dale Vietmeier ("Chief Vietmeier") signed a "sobriety checkpoint authorization form," which the Commonwealth entered into evidence, that purported to "authorize the operation of a sobriety checkpoint" in adherence with the task force's "standard operating procedures." Id. at 19. Sergeant Ogden also signed the form. Id. at 20. Following the suppression hearing, the Commonwealth sought to reopen the record to admit into evidence a 2003 resolution signed by the township's manager.4 The Commonwealth argued that this resolution demonstrated that the township's board of commissioners had both authorized its police to participate in the task force's activities and signaled that Sergeant Ogden would be present at all checkpoints. See Commonwealth's Motion to Reopen the Record and Admit New Evidence, 4/13/2015, ¶ 8.

Over Hlubin's objection, the trial court permitted the Commonwealth to admit the resolution into the record. N.T., 5/21/2015, at 13-15. It denied Hlubin's suppression motion and conducted a bench trial. Based upon the testimony from the suppression hearing and a lab report indicating a 0.152 blood alcohol content, the trial court found Hlubin guilty of two counts of DUI. Id. at 17-18, 23. The trial court sentenced Hlubin to thirty days of county intermediate punishment with eligibility for educational, medical, religious and work release, followed by six months of probation and a $ 750.00 fine.

Hlubin filed a notice of appeal to the Superior Court. In its written opinion pursuant to Rule 1925(a) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure, the trial court concluded that the sobriety checkpoint at issue was authorized under both the ICA and the MPJA. Trial Court Opinion, 1/5/2016, at 3-5. With respect to the ICA, the trial court found that, pursuant to resolution #14-2003, Robinson Township became a member of the task force and that Robinson Township and Moon Township were amongst its fifteen members. Id. at 6. As such, the sobriety checkpoint was a "valid exercise of a joint governmental cooperation agreement." Id. As for the MPJA, the trial court stated that Sergeant Ogden was in Robinson Township solely to participate in the operation of the checkpoint and that his presence had been specifically requested in the "sobriety checkpoint authorization form" signed by Chief Vietmeier of Robinson Township. Id. at 3, 6. According to the trial court, "[b]y requesting and authorizing the [task force] to operate a sobriety checkpoint, Chief Vietmeier was requesting aid or assistance from the other participating members of the [task force] to provide the manpower and experience necessary to operate the sobriety checkpoint." Id. at 6. As a result, this request for aid or assistance constituted a valid exercise of subsection 8953(a)(3) of the MPJA,5 permitting Sergeant Ogden and the other officers at the checkpoint to cross municipal boundaries and conduct police-related operations outside of their primary jurisdictions. Id. at 6-7 (citing 42 Pa.C.S. § 8953(a)(3) ).

A three-judge panel of the Superior Court affirmed, with one judge dissenting. Commonwealth v. Hlubin , 951 WDA 2015, 2016 WL 5874381 (Pa. Super. Oct. 6, 2016) (non-precedential) (withdrawn). Hlubin filed a petition for reargument en banc, which the Superior Court granted on December 15, 2016.

On May 23, 2017, the intermediate appellate court affirmed the trial court's decision. Commonwealth v. Hlubin , 165 A.3d 1 (Pa. Super. 2017) (en banc). It began by acknowledging (and agreeing with) the Commonwealth's concession that, contrary to the trial court's conclusion, the September 29, 2013 sobriety checkpoint did not comply with the ICA. Id. at 6. The ICA requires that that every participating municipality to a joint cooperation agreement must adopt an ordinance reflecting its entry into the agreement. Id. (citing 53 Pa.C.S. §§ 2303, 2305 ). Here, none of the fifteen townships or the City of Pittsburgh had adopted any such ordinance. Id. Therefore, according to the en banc panel, the trial court's reliance upon Robinson Township's resolution #14-2003 was misplaced, as it was not an ordinance and had not been adopted by the other task force municipalities.6 Id.

The en banc panel also concluded that the lack of ICA compliance did not end its "inquiry with regard to whether the checkpoint was valid." Id. It held that the ICA and the MPJA are "not mutually exclusive," as they "address different circumstances that may arise within local municipalities." Id. It found that the ICA applies to "all local governments," whereas the MPJA applies to any "duly employed municipal police officer who is within the Commonwealth, but beyond the territorial limits of his primary jurisdiction." Id. The Superior Court then turned its attention to the question of whether the sobriety checkpoint was permitted pursuant to one of the MPJA exceptions.

Like the trial court, the en banc panel read subsection 8953(a)(3) of the MPJA as authorization for the participation of Sergeant...

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7 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Mason
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • March 25, 2021
    ..., 217 A.3d 273, 278-79 (Pa. Super. 2019) ("Just over a month after the Supreme Court issued its decision in [Commonwealth v. Hlubin , 652 Pa. 545, 208 A.3d 1032, 1052 (2019) (holding Section 8953(a)(3) of the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act (MPJA) does not authorize police officers to cro......
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    ...the trial court referred to Corporal Hoyland as Officer Hoyland. We have substituted his correct title.5 In Commonwealth v. Hlubin , 652 Pa. 545, 208 A.3d 1032 (2019) (plurality), our Supreme Court addressed the continued validity of the O'Shea test. Three justices were unwilling to condone......
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    ...1032 (Pa. 2019), which Appellant discovered in October 2020, constituted a new fact. Id. at 24. Appellant continues to argue on appeal that Hlubin a new fact. Appellant's Br. at 10-15. To invoke the new fact exception, a petitioner must plead and prove "that there were 'facts' that were 'un......
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    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • August 16, 2019
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