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A Pennsylvania driver huffed difluoroethane, or DFE, while driving and killed another driver in a subsequent collision. Based on her past of losing consciousness after huffing DFE, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded this summer that her conduct constituted malice sufficient to support her convictions of third-degree murder and aggravated assault. The state high court therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision in this Pennsylvania DUI case.

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Huffing while driving is more common than one might expect; it is an issue that often finds its way into the courts. Just this month, for example, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the impaired driving convictions of a woman who was found limp in her car three separate times after allegedly huffing DFE. One Minnesota Supreme Court Justice dissented; she argued the law lists hazardous chemical characteristics, and DFE falls under that category even though it’s not mentioned by name.

DFE is a colorless gas commonly used as a refrigerant or as a propellant for aerosol sprays and in gas duster products. DFE is defined as an inhalant, which also includes chemicals found in products like aerosol sprays, glue, cleaning fluids, paint thinner, nail polish remover, and lighter fuel. When these substances are inhaled through the nose or mouth, they can cause permanent physical and mental damage. They deprive the body of oxygen and force the heart to beat rapidly and irregularly. People using inhalants can suffer nausea and nosebleeds, lose their sense of smell, or develop liver, kidney, and lung problems. Prolonged use can cause reduced muscle mass, tone, and strength. Inhalants can make people unable to move, walk, talk, and think normally. When the toxic fumes are sniffed straight into the sinuses, much of the damage is caused to the brain tissue. In addition to the above, inhalants can kill a person by heart attack or suffocation as the inhaled fumes take the place of oxygen in the lungs and central nervous system. A person who has huffed inhalants might also suddenly react with unexpected and extreme violence.

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A driver appealed from a judgment of sentence imposed after the trial court’s denial of his petition for a writ of certiorari challenging his conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol and a combination of drugs. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the appellant’s Pennsylvania DUI conviction.

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In December 2013, officers arrested the appellant and subsequently charged him with DUI, as well as summary traffic offenses, including driving with a suspended license and disregarding a steady red light. On March 7, 2014, the appellant was found guilty of both summary offenses in traffic court; the DUI charge was not adjudicated on that date. On March 10, 2014, the appellant filed a summary appeal of the driving with a suspended license charge.

In May 2014, the appellant moved to dismiss the DUI charge in municipal court, arguing that the Commonwealth was barred from prosecuting him under the compulsory joinder provisions of 18 Pa.C.S. § 110(1)(ii) because he was previously prosecuted for and convicted of two traffic violations in the traffic division. The judge denied the appellant’s motion. The appellant additionally argued a motion to suppress any statements made and the blood test results under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Article One, Section Eight of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The judge denied the appellant’s motion to suppress and subsequently found the appellant guilty solely of DUI, combination of drugs. Later that month, the appellant’s summary appeal of driving with a suspended license was granted, and the charge was withdrawn by the Commonwealth.

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On July 22, 2015, a driver was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of a controlled substance. On April 15, 2016, he petitioned for acceptance into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program. The Commonwealth approved his petition, and, on June 2, 2016, the trial court accepted him into the ARD program. On September 23, 2016, he filed a petition to remove himself from the ARD program. On November 30, 2016, the trial court held a hearing on his petition and denied the petition.

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The driver raised one issue on appeal before the Superior Court of Pennsylvania:  whether the trial court erred by denying his petition to remove himself from the ARD program following his Pennsylvania drugged driving conviction.

The appeals court first ascertained whether the order was properly appealable. In general, the court’s jurisdiction “extends only to review of final orders.” A final order is defined as any order that:  (1) disposes of all claims and of all parties; (2) is explicitly defined as a final order by statute; or (3) is entered as a final order pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 341(c). With respect to criminal cases, the general rule is that a defendant may appeal only from a final judgment of sentence, and an appeal from any prior order or judgment will be quashed. The purpose of this rule is to prevent undue delay and avoid the disruption of criminal cases by piecemeal appellate review.

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A driver appealed from a June 21, 2016 judgment of sentence in a Pennsylvania DUI case, imposing 36-108 months of incarceration for homicide by vehicle, recklessly endangering another person (“REAP“), and driving under the influence of a controlled substance.

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The trial court summarized the facts as follows. The driver was driving her vehicle on Kindig Road, ran a stop sign at the intersection of Kindig Road and Route 97, and pulled out into oncoming traffic on a busy road with a speed limit of 35 miles per hour. Her line of sight going in the southbound direction was completely obstructed by a building as she approached the stop sign. Rather than inch up past the stop sign to look for oncoming traffic, she never stopped and proceeded into the intersection, traveling 12 miles per hour and pulling out directly in front of the decedent’s northbound box truck. The box truck crashed into the driver’s car, crossed the double yellow line, and then crashed into a tow truck driving southbound on Route 97. The evidence also showed that the driver was familiar with her route of travel, the placement of the stop sign, and the nature of the intersecting road.

A jury found her guilty of homicide by vehicle and REAP, but not guilty of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence. The trial court found her guilty of DUI and various summary traffic offenses. In June 2016, the trial court sentenced her to 27 to 84 months of incarceration for homicide by vehicle, a consecutive nine to 24 months for REAP, and a concurrent three to six months for DUI.

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A defendant appealed from the February 23, 2016 order entered in the Greene County Court of Common Pleas, denying his petitions filed under the Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA“). This month, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the judgment.

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On December 3, 2013, the defendant pled guilty to theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, criminal conspiracy to commit theft, recklessly endangering another person, fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, aggravated assault by vehicle, DUI, and various summary offenses. On February 13, 2014, the trial court sentenced him to an aggregate term of six to 17 years’ imprisonment.

On March 10, 2014, the defendant filed a timely pro se PCRA petition. The PCRA court appointed counsel, who filed an amended petition. On January 12, 2016, the PCRA court held an evidentiary hearing. On February 23, 2016, the PCRA court denied the petition. The defendant filed timely notices of appeal.

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A defendant appealed from a 2017 trial court order denying his appeal from a suspension of his driving privileges imposed by the Bureau of Driver’s Licensing. The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the order.

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In May 2016, two Pennsylvania State Police Troopers were dispatched to a truck stop in Breezewood, Pennsylvania based on a report of a man passed out on the sidewalk. The officers arrived shortly thereafter and found the defendant passed out. They smelled alcohol on his breath and further noted that his eyes were glassy and bloodshot.

They asked the defendant how he arrived in Breezewood, and he replied that he drove there. They then asked the defendant where his car was, and he said that his car was in the parking lot. They asked the defendant how much he had to drink, and he responded that he had a few drinks at his house. They didn’t perform field sobriety tests because he appeared drunk and had trouble standing up straight. But they conducted a breath test, which revealed a 0.196% BAC, which is above the legal limit.

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A defendant appealed from the July 2016 judgment of sentence entered in the McKean County Court of Common Pleas following his convictions for DUI and careless driving. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed.

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The defendant raised one issue on appeal:  whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motions to dismiss pursuant to Pennsylvania Criminal Rule 600, which pertains to the guarantee of a “prompt trial.”

The appeals court began by outlining the applicable law. While Rule 600 requires the Commonwealth to try a defendant within 365 days of the filing of a criminal complaint, a defendant is not automatically entitled to discharge under Rule 600 if the trial starts more than 365 days after the filing of the complaint. Instead, Rule 600 provides for the dismissal of charges only in cases in which the defendant has not been brought to trial within the term of the adjusted run date, after subtracting all excludable and excusable time. The adjusted run date is calculated by adding to the mechanical run date, i.e., the date 365 days from the complaint, both excludable and excusable delays.

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It was over a year ago on May 25, 2016 that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 290 into law which has been coined by many the “ignition interlock law”. Now 15 months later this new ignition interlock limited license goes into effect on August 25, 2017.  Pennsylvania has never had anything like this before as it applies to penalties for DUI offenses.  Prior to this drivers had the option of applying for an Occupational Limited License (OLL) after serving a portion of their suspension.  As of August 25, 2017, drivers can no longer obtain an OLL but rather will have to apply for an IILL.  This is great news because as you will see below it applies to many more people. Lets look deeper into what this is all about.

WHAT IS AN IGNITION INTERLOCKDUI

An ignition interlock is a device that a driver would install in their motor vehicle to prohibit individuals under the influence of ALCOHOL from starting the vehicle. The driver would blow a breath sample into the mouthpiece to start the vehicle. The interlock then would analyze and measure the breath for alcohol concentration. If alcohol is detected and exceeds 0.025mg the device will not allow the engine to start.  This device DOES NOT detect drugs.  (There are some companies working to develop a device that would also have the ability to detect drugs and not just alcohol. As of today no such technology exists and I think it will be a long time before it does) 

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The Commonwealth appealed from an October 17, 2016 order entered in the York County Court of Common Pleas, granting the motion to suppress filed by a defendant in a Pennsylvania DUI case. Since the trial court did not make factual findings regarding whether the defendant consented to the blood draw before or after being improperly warned about the consequences of refusal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court was unable to determine whether the court erred in finding the defendant’s consent was involuntary. The appeals court therefore reversed and remanded.

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On February 8, 2015 in New Cumberland, the defendant was traveling west on Lewisberry Road. The victims were entering Lewisberry Road from Poplar Road when they were hit by the defendant’s car. One victim, who was driving at the time of the incident, was ejected from his vehicle and later pronounced dead. The other victim sustained severe injuries, including a brain injury, a shoulder injury, and internal injuries. Immediately following the incident, she was transported to Hershey Medical Center for treatment.

An officer spoke with the defendant on the scene after he was placed in the ambulance. The defendant advised the officer he was heading home at the time of the incident after picking up food for his family. At that time, the officer smelled a strong oder of alcohol coming from the defendant’s breath, and when asked, he stated he had consumed one beer earlier that day.

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calendarA driver appealed from the order entered in the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas denying his motion for a waiver or reduction of the court costs and fines imposed as a result of his July 8, 2014 conviction and sentence for one count of driving under the influence of a controlled substance. The Pennsylvania Superior Court dismissed the appeal.

The driver raised the following issues on appeal:  (1) whether the trial court erred when it did not hear the trial set and accepted a guilty plea; (2) whether the trial court erred when it failed to remove defense counsel and appoint new counsel for the driver; and (3) whether the trial court erred when it denied the driver’s petitions to waive court costs and fines.

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