Commonwealth v. Lehnerd, 579 WDA 2021

CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtCOLINS, J.
Citation2022 PA Super 57
Docket Number579 WDA 2021,J-A06038-22
Decision Date05 April 2022

2022 PA Super 57



No. 579 WDA 2021

No. J-A06038-22

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

April 5, 2022

Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence Entered February 18, 2021 In the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-10-CR-0000756-2019




Appellant, Troy David Lehnerd, appeals from the judgment of sentence imposed for his convictions for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) General Impairment Incapable of Driving Safely and DUI Highest Rate of Alcohol, [1] and two summary Vehicle Code offenses, Abandoning Vehicle on a Highway and Failure to Activate Hazard Lamps.[2] For the reasons set forth below, we vacate Appellant's DUI convictions and sentence and remand for a new trial.

This case arises out of a one-vehicle accident on March 7, 2019, in Oakland Township, Pennsylvania at approximately 9:00 p.m. Two Pennsylvania State Police troopers were dispatched to the scene and found


Appellant's pickup truck overturned. N.T. Suppression Hearing at 4, 20-21; N.T. Trial at 38-39. When they arrived at the scene, no one was in the truck and the driver was not in the area. N.T. Suppression Hearing at 4-5, 21; N.T. Trial at 39. When one of the troopers looked in the truck for registration documents, he saw empty beer cans in the truck. N.T. Suppression Hearing at 5, 10; N.T. Trial at 39, 54-55. A neighbor who had come to the scene shortly after the accident told one of the troopers that the driver had asked to use a phone to call for a ride and that the driver smelled of alcohol. N.T. Suppression Hearing at 5-6; N.T. Trial at 39. The troopers determined by running the truck's license plate that Appellant was the owner and what Appellant's address was. N.T. Suppression Hearing at 21, 24. While the troopers were finishing their investigation of the scene, Appellant's parents arrived and told them that Appellant was the owner of the truck and that they had driven Appellant home. Id. at 6-7, 21-22; N.T. Trial at 40, 50.

The troopers then drove to Appellant's house and knocked on the door. N.T. Suppression Hearing at 7, 14-15, 21-22. No lights were on at Appellant's house, and no one came to the door when they knocked. Id. at 7-8, 14-15, 22. While the troopers were waiting at Appellant's door, Appellant's parents arrived at Appellant's house. Id. at 7-8, 15, 22, 25. Appellant's mother told the troopers that she had dropped Appellant off at this house and believed that he was in the house. Id. at 8, 22. The troopers asked Appellant's mother if she could let them in the house and she opened the door and let them in.


Id. at 8-9, 22-23, 25-26. After Appellant's mother let them in, the troopers entered Appellant's house and escorted him out of the house to perform field sobriety tests. Id. at 9; N.T. Trial at 41-42. The field sobriety tests showed intoxication and Appellant was arrested and taken to the local State Police barracks, where he submitted to a blood alcohol breath test. N.T. Trial at 42-46. The blood alcohol breath test showed a blood alcohol level of .163%. Id. at 46-48.

Appellant was charged with DUI General Impairment Incapable of Driving Safely, DUI Highest Rate of Alcohol, and five summary Vehicle Code offenses, including Abandoning Vehicle on a Highway and Failure to Activate Hazard Lamps. On September 12, 2019, Appellant filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained after entering Appellant's house on the ground that the troopers' warrantless entry into the house and escorting him out of the house constituted an illegal seizure. On February 14, 2020, the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County (trial court) held an evidentiary hearing on Appellant's suppression motion at which both troopers and Appellant's mother testified. Following the hearing, the trial court denied Appellant's motion to suppress on the ground that Appellant's mother had consented to the troopers' entry into Appellant's house and that she had apparent authority to give that consent. Trial Court Opinion and Order, 2/18/20.

On January 22, 2021, Appellant was convicted at a bench trial of DUI General Impairment Incapable of Driving Safely, DUI Highest Rate of Alcohol,


Abandoning Vehicle on a Highway and Failure to Activate Hazard Lamps and was acquitted of the three other summary Vehicle Code offenses. N.T. Trial at 83-84; Non-Jury Verdict. At this trial, the field sobriety tests and blood alcohol breath test results were admitted in evidence and one of the troopers testified concerning his observations of Appellant and a statement Appellant made after he was taken out of his house. N.T. Trial at 42-48. In addition, witnesses who live where the accident occurred testified that Appellant said that he had wrecked his truck and asked to use a telephone right after the accident, that Appellant told them that he had had a few drinks, and that Appellant had watery eyes, "was slurring his speech a little," looked "spaced out," and smelled of alcohol. Id. at 10-14, 20-21, 23, 28-30, 34, 36.

On February 18, 2021, the trial court sentenced Appellant to 72 hours to 6 months' imprisonment, from which he was immediately paroled, and a $1, 000 fine for the DUI convictions and imposed fines of $500 and $25 for the two summary offense convictions. Sentencing Order. Appellant filed a post sentence motion seeking a new trial on weight of the evidence grounds, which the trial court denied on April 23, 2021. This timely appeal followed.[3]

Appellant presents the following single issue for our review:

Whether the trial court erred and/or abused its discretion by failing to suppress the evidence stemming from the unlawful consent and search of Defendant's residence where Defendant was unlawfully seized?

Appellant's Brief at 6. Our standard and scope of review of the denial of a motion to suppress evidence is well established:

Appellate review of a suppression decision is limited to the suppression record, considering the evidence presented by the Commonwealth as the prevailing party and any uncontradicted evidence presented by the defense. This Court is bound by the facts as found by the suppression court so long as they are supported by the record, but our review of its legal conclusions is de novo.

Commonwealth v. Valdivia, 195 A.3d 855, 861 (Pa. 2018) (citations omitted).

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution[4] protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. Fernandez v. California, 571 U.S. 292, 298 (2014); Commonwealth v. Strader, 931 A.2d 630, 634 (Pa. 2007). Warrantless entry by law enforcement into a home to look for a suspect is presumptively unreasonable and is constitutionally impermissible absent an applicable exception to the Fourth Amendment's general requirement that a warrant be obtained. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586-603 (1980); Strader, 931 A.2d at 634; ...

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