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Entrapment Defense in DUI Cases: Analyzing Commonwealth v. Whitmire (2023)

Town Law Publishing Feb. 25, 2024

 individual is stepping out of a smokey car and walking into a police stationCom. v. Troy Jordan Whitmire, 2023 PA Super 137 (July 28, 2023)

Background of the Case

The case of Commonwealth v. Troy Jordan Whitmire delves into the nuanced legal landscape surrounding the use of medical marijuana and its implications for driving under the influence (DUI) laws in Pennsylvania. The appellant, Troy Jordan Whitmire, found himself at the center of this legal dilemma following an incident that occurred on January 9, 2021.

The events leading to Whitmire's legal troubles began when Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Nicholas Dahlstrom initiated an investigation into a harassment report involving Whitmire and his sister. As part of the investigation, an emergency protection from abuse order (PFA) was granted against Whitmire. To serve the PFA, Trooper Dahlstrom contacted Whitmire via phone and requested him to come to the Butler PSP barracks.

Whitmire complied with the request and arrived at the barracks at approximately 10:30 p.m. Upon his arrival, Trooper Dahlstrom observed Whitmire's behavior, which he described as erratic and rambling. Whitmire engaged in a conversation with the trooper, during which he admitted to having smoked marijuana earlier that day. This admission, coupled with Whitmire's behavior, raised concerns about his potential impairment.

To further assess Whitmire's condition, Trooper Philip Treadway, a drug recognition expert, conducted a drug recognition evaluation. The evaluation, along with a subsequent blood test administered at Butler Memorial Hospital, confirmed the presence of marijuana in Whitmire's system. Based on these findings, Whitmire was charged with two counts of DUI-controlled substance.

Whitmire's case proceeded to a non-jury trial on July 8, 2022, where the testimonies of Troopers Dahlstrom and Treadway were presented. The trial court found Whitmire guilty of the charges and sentenced him to serve 72 hours to 6 months in jail, along with a $1,000 fine. Whitmire's subsequent post-sentence motion, which raised issues of entrapment and challenged the sufficiency of evidence regarding his impairment and operation of a motor vehicle, was denied by the trial court.

The complexities of Whitmire's case highlight the ongoing legal challenges posed by the intersection of medical marijuana usage and DUI laws in Pennsylvania. As Whitmire appealed his conviction, the case was brought before the Superior Court, where the nuances of these legal issues were further examined.

Lower Court's Decision

The trial court conducted a non-jury trial on July 8, 2022, where Troopers Dahlstrom and Treadway provided testimonies regarding Whitmire's condition and the results of the drug recognition evaluation and blood tests. The court found Whitmire guilty of two counts of DUI-controlled substance and sentenced him to serve 72 hours to 6 months in jail, along with a $1,000 fine. Whitmire's post-sentence motion, which included a claim of entrapment and challenged the sufficiency of evidence regarding his impairment and operation of a motor vehicle, was denied by the trial court.

smoke-filled interrogation room

Superior Court's Reasoning and Decision

In addressing Whitmire's appeal, the Superior Court thoroughly examined the legal arguments presented and the evidence on record. The court's analysis focused on the sufficiency of the evidence, the implications of medical marijuana usage under DUI laws, and the validity of the entrapment defense.

Sufficiency of Evidence: Whitmire argued that the Commonwealth failed to prove he was driving or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana. The Superior Court, however, found that the circumstantial evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support his conviction. This evidence included Whitmire's admission to Trooper Dahlstrom that he drove to the PSP barracks, the observations of his erratic behavior, and the results of the drug recognition evaluation and blood tests indicating the presence of marijuana in his system. The court cited Commonwealth v. Young, where it was established that the Commonwealth can prove the operation of a motor vehicle through wholly circumstantial evidence, to support its conclusion.

Implications of Medical Marijuana: Whitmire also contended that the Commonwealth's reliance on the mere presence of marijuana in his blood to prove impairment was insufficient, especially considering his lawful prescription for medical marijuana. The Superior Court, however, referenced the case of Commonwealth v. Watts and Commonwealth v. Stone to affirm that under current Pennsylvania law, it is illegal to drive with any amount of marijuana in one's system, irrespective of its medical or non-medical nature. The court emphasized that the Motor Vehicle Code expressly states that being legally entitled to use controlled substances is not a defense to a DUI charge.

Entrapment Defense:

Whitmire's final argument centered on the entrapment defense. He claimed that the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) enticed him to drive to the barracks while under the influence of marijuana, thereby entrapping him into committing the offense of DUI. However, the Superior Court found this argument to be without merit, affirming the trial court's rejection of the entrapment defense.

The court's analysis was grounded in the objective standard for evaluating entrapment claims in Pennsylvania, as outlined in Commonwealth v. Marion and Commonwealth v. Joseph. According to this standard, the focus is on the conduct of law enforcement officials, not the predisposition of the defendant. The court reiterated that "Merely affording the opportunity, through police artifice and stratagem, for the commission of a crime by a person who already has the requisite intent is not entrapment. Rather, the defense of entrapment is aimed at condemning certain impermissible conduct which falls below standards for the proper use of governmental power."

In Whitmire's case, the court found that the PSP's actions did not rise to the level of entrapment. Trooper Dahlstrom's request for Whitmire to come to the barracks to be served with an emergency protection from abuse order (PFA) was deemed a legitimate law enforcement activity. The court noted that there was no evidence of trickery or deception employed by the PSP, nor did their tactics suggest that a law-abiding person would be led to commit a crime. The court emphasized that "Where police do no more than afford an appellant an opportunity to commit an illegal act, their actions are not considered sufficiently outrageous police conduct to support an entrapment defense."

Furthermore, the court highlighted that Whitmire's decision to drive to the barracks while under the influence of marijuana was not a result of any inducement or encouragement by the PSP. The mere act of asking Whitmire to come to the barracks for a lawful purpose did not constitute entrapment. The court concluded that "The availability of the entrapment defense does not preclude police from acting so as to detect those engaging in criminal conduct and ready and willing to commit further crimes should the occasion arise. Such indeed is their obligation."

 smoke-filled interrogation roomCONCLUSION

The case of Commonwealth v. Whitmire reaffirmed the sufficiency of evidence required under Section 3802(d) of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code (75 Pa.C.S. 3802(d)) for a conviction of driving under the influence of a controlled substance. The defendant, who was requested by the police to come to the station, exhibited evidence of impairment and admitted to smoking marijuana earlier that day. Furthermore, he acknowledged driving his vehicle to the station. The court's decision underscores the high threshold for establishing entrapment in Pennsylvania and reaffirms the principle that law enforcement officials are permitted to provide opportunities for individuals to commit crimes, provided they do not engage in conduct that falls below acceptable standards of governmental power.

- The Town Law LLC