The Coast Guard received a report of an intoxicated boater. A short time later, a boating under the influence (BUI) patrol stopped an Erie man's boat supposedly "at random" for the purpose of inspecting the safety equipment on the boat. Upon boarding the vessel, the officers asked the owner of the boat whether he had been drinking and observed other signs of intoxication. The officers transported the boater to shore where he performed field sobriety tests. The officers later obtained his BAC, which was over the legal limit. The boater was charged with BUI.
After the preliminary hearing, Erie BUI lawyer Tim George filed a suppression motion which asserted that the stated reason for stopping the boat (i.e., to inspect the safety equipment and manifest) was merely a pretext, and that stopping and boarding the boat violated both the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions. After an evidentiary hearing, the Court ruled that the stop violated the rights of the boater. The Court ordered the exclusion of all evidence seized after the stop, including the observations of the officers, statements made by the boater and his BAC. In short, the ruling meant that none of the evidence obtained after the officers boarded the boat could be used against our client.
The Commonwealth filed an appeal to the Superior Court. The Superior Court affirmed the lower court and agreed that none of the evidence obtained could be used against the boater. The Commonwealth then filed an appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. After filing briefs and arguing in Harrisburg before the highest court in Pennsylvania, the Court then denied the appeal, ending the case. The Commonwealth later dropped all charges against the boater.
You can read our brief filed with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania for a complete description of the circumstances surrounding this unprecedented case in Pennsylvania.
- Download full brief (3.19 MB)
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