Commonwealth v. Carmenates

An en banc panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed a panel decision regarding the Pennsylvania State Police’s SHIELD unit, which engages in pretextual stops of motorists as a drug interdiction strategy. As is typical of SHIELD unit stops, here the trooper saw the defendant following a tractor-trailer at what the trooper considered an unsafe distance and at speed slower than the flow of traffic. The defendant spoke only Spanish, and the trooper spoke only English, so the trooper used Google Translate to conduct the traffic stop. Though the trooper claimed that he had no problem understanding the defendant, his dash camera recorded one of the defendant’s responses as “you already see the see a bear for the girl the suitcase with the coat over coat.” Other such nonsensical translations were apparent. Nonetheless, the trooper went over a consent-to-search form with the defendant, and, according to Google Translate, the defendant consented. To the Superior Court’s credit, it gave a well-reasoned and thorough review of the record and caselaw on consent. In so doing, it reversed the panel’s decision and reinstated the trial court’s order granting suppression.

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