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Pennsylvania Superior Court Affirms DUI Conviction, Demonstrating the Importance of Preserving Error at Trial

By Ken Lund from Reno, NV, USA [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsA defendant was convicted of DUI in the Court of Common Pleas of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania after a bench trial. He appealed the conviction and sentence to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, questioning whether the arresting officer had probable cause to request a blood test, and whether the court violated the defendant’s due process rights by denying him a jury trial. The court dismissed the appeal, however, because the defendant did not raise these issues with the trial court, and therefore did not preserve them for appeal. Comm. v. Halcovage, No. 564 MDA 2013, memorandum (Penn. Super. Ct., Jan. 7, 2014).

According to the court’s memorandum, a police officer stopped the defendant’s vehicle just after 11:00 p.m. on July 15, 2011 after observing him speeding. The officer claimed that he observed telltale signs of intoxication, including “red, blood-shot and glassy eyes” and “a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage.” The defendant allegedly admitting to drinking “one or two beers.” He allegedly failed a field sobriety test, and a portable breath testing device showed blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.13 percent. The officer took him to the emergency room at Schuylkill Medical Center, where he consented to having blood drawn. The blood sample also showed 0.13 percent BAC.

The defendant was charged with DUI – general impairment and DUI – high rate of alcohol. The court conducted a bench trial on December 6, 2012 and found him guilty of both DUI charges. On March 5, 2013, it sentenced him to forty-eight hours to six months in prison. The defendant submitted a statement of error, as required by Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 1925(b), identifying five points of error. The trial court ruled on all five points, and the defendant filed an appeal.

The defendant raised two questions to the Superior Court. The Superior Court never reached either issue, however, because it held that the defendant did not include either issue in his Rule 1925(b) statement. He therefore failed to preserve either error for appeal.

The two questions are still worth examining. The defendant first asked whether considering the arresting officer’s testimony about the field sobriety test in order to establish probable cause for the arrest was error, because the officer was allegedly not certified to conduct such tests. A defendant may challenge an officer’s eyewitness testimony if it formed the basis for a traffic stop or an arrest. The defendant might have had trouble on this issue, however, because of his alleged consent to breath and blood tests.

The defendant’s second question asked whether the trial court’s refusal to allow a jury trial violated his due process rights. The maximum penalty for the four charged offenses was six months. The Pennsylvania Constitution and the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantee the right to a jury trial in criminal cases, but courts have held that this does not apply to “petty” offenses, defined as carrying a maximum possible sentence of six months or less.

If you have been arrested for DUI in Pennsylvania , it is critical that you consult with a qualified DUI lawyer to determine the best way to handle your defense. Zachary B. Cooper, Attorney at Law, P.C. has dedicated 100% of his practice to DUI defense. We are available to help you 24/7. Please contact us online or at (215) 542-0800 for a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Man Arrested, Charged with DUI Despite 0.00 Percent BAC, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, March 14, 2014

2013 Was a Tumultuous Year for Court Decisions in DUI Cases Regarding the Accuracy of Breathalyzer Results, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, February 12, 2014

Court Vacates DUI Sentence Based on Pennsylvania’s Merger Doctrine, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, February 6, 2014

Photo credit: By Ken Lund from Reno, NV, USA [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.