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Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Steven Tillery: Suppression of Evidence Due to Lack of Probable Cause for Turn Signal Violation (2021)

Town Law Publishing June 2, 2024

car not using its turn signal while parking

Facts of the Case

In the early morning hours of August 22, 2018, Steven Tillery was driving with his brother, Kalil Tillery, as a passenger. Officer Abdel Kanan, a Philadelphia police officer, stopped Tillery's vehicle after observing it pull into a parking spot in front of Cousin's Supermarket on the 6400 block of Woodland Avenue without using a turn signal. According to Officer Kanan, he initiated the stop because of the lack of a turn signal, which he believed was a violation of the Vehicle Code. During the stop, Officer Kanan did not observe any furtive movements, detect any odors of marijuana or alcohol, or see any contraband or bulges in the occupants' clothing. Despite this, Officer Kanan searched the vehicle and found a gun in the center console.

Steven Tillery filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the stop, arguing that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion or probable cause to initiate the traffic stop and search the vehicle. The motion was heard in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County.

Lower Court Decision

The Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County granted Tillery's motion to suppress the evidence. The suppression court determined that the officers did not have probable cause to stop the vehicle based solely on Tillery's failure to use a turn signal when pulling into a parking spot. The court found Officer Kanan's testimony to be vague, conclusory, and internally inconsistent. Specifically, the court noted discrepancies in Officer Kanan's testimony about whether Tillery made statements about the gun before or after it was recovered.

The suppression court concluded that the initial stop was invalid and, as a result, all evidence obtained from the stop, including the gun and Tillery's statements, were tainted and should be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree.

car not using its turn signal while parking

Superior Court Decision

The Commonwealth appealed the suppression court's decision to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. The primary issue on appeal was whether the officers had reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop Tillery's vehicle for failing to use a turn signal when pulling into a parking spot.


Steven Tillery contended that the traffic stop was unlawful because the officers lacked a valid basis for the stop. He argued that the failure to use a turn signal when pulling into a parking spot is not a violation of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code and, therefore, did not justify the stop.

Court’s Decision

The Superior Court conducted a thorough review of the suppression court's findings and the applicable legal standards. The court affirmed the suppression court's decision, agreeing that the officers lacked probable cause to stop Tillery's vehicle.

Commonwealth v. Cartegena, 63 A.3d 294 (Pa. Super. 2013): The Superior Court reiterated the principles set forth in Cartegena, emphasizing that an appellate court is bound by the factual findings of the suppression court if they are supported by the record. The court noted that it must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, which in this case was Tillery.

Commonwealth v. Brown, 64 A.3d 1101 (Pa. Super. 2013): The court referenced Brown, which established that a police officer needs probable cause to initiate a traffic stop if the violation in question requires no additional investigation. The Superior Court found that Officer Kanan's observation of Tillery's failure to use a turn signal did not constitute a violation requiring further investigation.

Commonwealth v. Feczko, 10 A.3d 1285 (Pa. Super. 2010): The court cited Feczko, which clarifies that if a traffic violation requires no further investigation, probable cause is needed to justify the stop. The Superior Court agreed with the suppression court that the plain language of the statute governing turn signals (75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3334) did not require a signal when moving from a traffic lane to a parking position.

Commonwealth v. McCoy, 962 A.2d 1160 (Pa. 2009): The court emphasized that penal statutes must be strictly construed and that the legislature's failure to include a requirement for a turn signal when moving into a parking spot indicated that no such requirement existed.

Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U.S. 54 (2015): The Superior Court also discussed the mistake of law doctrine from Heien, which allows for an officer's reasonable misinterpretation of the law under certain rare circumstances. However, the court found that this doctrine did not apply in Tillery's case, as Officer Kanan's interpretation of the Vehicle Code was not objectively reasonable.

The Superior Court concluded that Tillery was not required to use a turn signal when pulling into a parking spot and that the officers lacked probable cause for the stop. As a result, the evidence obtained during the stop was properly suppressed. The court affirmed the suppression court's order, remanded the case for further proceedings, and relinquished jurisdiction.

police officer talking to a driver through the driver side window