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Pennsylvania DUI Defendant Argues on Appeal that Verdict Went against Weight of Evidence, Gets New Trial

Doug Kerr [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)], via FlickrA Pennsylvania man appealed his conviction of driving under the influence (DUI)—incapable of safely driving and DUI—highest rate of alcohol, arguing that the arresting officers lacked reasonable suspicion of a crime when they stopped his car, and that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled, in Commonwealth v. Landis, that the defendant was entitled to a new trial on the “weight of the evidence” argument. It held that the trial court abused its discretion by incorrectly applying the law.

Pennsylvania State Troopers pulled the defendant over on State Route 35 at 2:40 a.m. on April 4, 2010, after allegedly witnessing his vehicle weave within its lane and cross the center double-yellow line several times. The defendant admitted to having several drinks. The troopers arrested him and took him to a nearby hospital, where a medical technician drew blood and conducted a single chemical test using an Avid Axsym machine. The test showed blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.164 percent.

At trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress for lack of reasonable suspicion, which the trial court denied. He challenged the reliability of the Avid Axsym machine. The medical technician testified that the machine had a ten percent margin of error, which was not considered in its BAC report. The defendant argued that the Avid Axsym machine was less reliable than a gas chromatography test, and that his BAC result based on a single test was unreliable. A jury found him guilty, and the trial court sentenced him to a prison sentence of ninety days to five years less one day.

The defendant raised two points on appeal to the Superior Court. He claimed that the trial court erred (1) by denying his post-sentence motion alleging that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence, and (2) by denying his motion to suppress for lack of probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle. The Superior court held that it could not rule on the motion to suppress because the trial court did not include findings of fact in its order. It vacated the sentence and granted a new trial, however, on the defendant’s first point of appeal.

In ruling on the claim that the verdict went against the weight of the evidence, the court noted that it would not review the evidence itself, but rather the lower court’s ruling on the defendant’s motion. It must find an abuse of discretion in order to rule in an appellant’s favor. According to a 2013 Pennsylvania Court of Appeals ruling in Comm. v. Clay, a trial court abuses its discretion if its judgment is “manifestly unreasonable,” does not apply the law, or is based on “partiality, prejudice, bias or ill-will.”

In the present case, the court found that the trial court incorrectly applied the law when it denied the defendant’s post-sentence motion, by ruling that it must view the record in a light favorable to the Commonwealth as the verdict winner. This is not the correct legal standard under Pennsylvania law, so the Superior Court held that the trial court abused its discretion.

If you have been charged with alleged DUI in Pennsylvania, you need the assistance of a qualified and skilled DUI attorney to advise you of your rights and plan the best possible defense for you. Zachary B. Cooper, Attorney at Law, P.C. has dedicated his practice exclusively to DUI defense. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us online or at (215) 542-0800.

More Blog Posts:

Pennsylvania Superior Court Affirms DUI Conviction, Demonstrating the Importance of Preserving Error at Trial, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, March 20, 2014

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

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

Photo credit: Doug Kerr [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr.