Court affirms DWI conviction after appeal of trooper's entry of car
In a decision rendered December 21, 2021, Genesee County Court Judge Charles N. Zambito affirmed the misdemeanor DWI conviction of defendant James D. Doyle (complete decision attached). The defendant was convicted upon his guilty plea in Pembroke Town Court in March of 2018 and was sentenced to a conditional discharge.
On August 26-27, 2012, around midnight, Trooper Timothy Pickering was on duty and received multiple reports through dispatch of an erratic vehicle traveling eastbound on the Thruway. Trooper Pickering located the car in the Pembroke service area. The vehicle was parked but it was still running. When the trooper approached the car, he saw "a driver sitting in the driver's seat, no seat belt, slumped over the wheel, and there was a female passenger in the passenger seat slumped over, too." The trooper knocked on the window and received no response. He then opened the door and was eventually successful in waking up the driver, who was Mr. Doyle.
After Mr. Doyle pleaded guilty, he filed a notice of appeal In April of 2018. In July of 2020, after Mr. Doyle had made no further action to perfect the appeal, the Genesee County District Attorney's Office moved to dismiss the matter. Genesee County Court allowed Mr. Doyle to complete his appeal, and an oral argument occurred on September 29, 2021.
In its decision, Genesee County Court found that Trooper Pickering was justified In "the minimally intrusive act of opening the defendant's . . . door to continue his Investigation" due to "the recent and substantial report of the defendant's erratic driving behavior, the manner in which the defendant's vehicle was parked, the fact that the vehicle was still running, and the defendant's unresponsive state." These factors gave the trooper reasonable cause to believe that the defendant had operated the vehicle while intoxicated or impaired. The trooper's actions were also justified under the emergency doctrine.
Assistant District Attorney Robert J. Shoemaker, who handled the appeal, welcomed the decision. "This is a good result not only for law enforcement, but it is also a win for logic and reason. We appreciate County Court's recognition that a trooper in this situation can approach a car and check on the occupants, both to determine their welfare and to investigate possible criminal activity.
Indeed, Trooper Pickering would have been derelict in his duties if he had knocked on Mr. Doyle's window and, upon receiving no response, had simply walked away.”
To read the full decision, click here (pdf).