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Police officer that witnessed defendant throw cigarette butt out of window did not have reasonable suspicion to stop vehicle.

Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Criminal Defense Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

In an rare case, a Berks County judge ruled that an officer did not have reasonable suspicion for a vehicle stop when he witnessed the defendant, James E. Amatucci, toss a lit cigarette butt out his driver's side window.  In Commonwealth v. Amatucci, Berks Co. Law Journal 105 p. 369 (June 12, 2013), the Court of Common Pleas ruled that a cigarette butt is not rubbish under the PA Crimes Code and further, it's therefore, not a violation of the Motor Vehicle Code.

The defendant filed a suppression motion challenging the vehicle stop. A vehicle stop which lead to the discovery of other criminal activity not specified in the opinion of the court.  The court determined that "scattering rubbish" under the Crimes Code is not a traffic violation.  Therefore, there was no basis to stop the vehicle under the Motor Vehicle Code.  Further, the court determined that a two to three inch lit cigarette butt was not "rubbish." 

For this contention, the court cited to Commonwealth v. Babb, 1979 Dist. & Cnty. Dec. Lexis 263 (Columbia County 1979) that ruled that cigarette butts were not intended to be rubbish.  "The items described as 'rubbish' in section 6501 do not specifically include cigarettes, nor do cigarettes seem to be within the same category as the items which section 6501 does specifically describe."

This matter is currently on appeal to the Superior Court of PA.  I would look for the matter to be reversed.  Rubbish is defined as "waste paper, sweepings, ashes, household waste, glass, metal, refuse or rubbish, or any dangerous or detrimental substance."  My hunch is that the appellate courts will view any cigarette butts, whether lit or not, as "rubbish."

If you've been stopped, cited, searched, or arrested while driving in your car; be courteous.  NEVER CONSENT to the search of your vehicle by police.  Police may sometimes stop drivers for seemingly petty reasons; such as center brake mount lights malfunctioning, fuzzy dice in the rear view mirror, or tossing a cigarette butt out a window.  They may be looking for evidence of a more serious crime.  Consent to search is an exception to the warrant requirement. 

You may contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.  One of our experienced criminal defense lawyers can assist you.

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