Appeals court upholds DUI suspension of Jeannette man who claims he was passenger
A state trooper’s word was enough to justify the 2016 drunken driving arrest of a Jeannette man who claimed he wasn’t behind the wheel at the time, a three-judge panel ruled this week.
Trooper Kimberly Zubovic’s statement to Trooper Thomas Dohey, the arresting officer, that Richard McBeth appeared intoxicated provided “reasonable grounds” for the arrest, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled Thursday.
The ruling reversed a decision by Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr., who dismissed McBeth’s DUI license suspension, saying there wasn’t sufficient legal basis for the arrest. McCormick later asked the state appeals court to overturn his decision and reinstate the license suspension.
“Precedent establishes an officer need not see a licensee operating a vehicle while under the influence in order for that officer to have reasonable grounds to believe the licensee was operating a vehicle,” Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson wrote in the court opinion.
The arrest happened after McBeth, 33, and a volunteer firefighter arrived at the scene of a two-vehicle accident on Aug. 14, 2016. McBeth, originally a passenger, got back in the vehicle and moved it farther away from the accident scene, according to the decision.
It was then that Zubovic informed Dohey that she believed McBeth was intoxicated and should be arrested for DUI. Dohey found McBeth asleep in the front passenger seat and told him to exit the vehicle, according to the decision.
Dohey took McBeth into custody on suspicion of drunken driving but was unable to get a sufficient breath sample at the state police barracks. McBeth declined to submit a second sample — a refusal that led to an 18-month license suspension by PennDOT, according to the decision.
McBeth appealed the suspension. Following McCormick’s dismissal, PennDOT appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
Simpson noted that Dohey based his arrest not only on Zubovic’s statement but also on McBeth’s “belligerence, bloodshot eyes and slurred speech.”
In January 2018, McBeth pleaded guilty to DUI and resisting arrest and was sentenced to five years’ probation. McBeth could not be reached for comment.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, email@example.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .