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Pennsylvania Appeals Court Holds DUI Defendant Waived Right to Counsel

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently upheld an appellant’s DUI conviction, reasoning that the appellant waived his right to counsel by ignoring the trial court’s repeated directions for him to retain counsel.

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On June 21, 2015, Officer Fennell observed appellant William Demenczuk fail to yield to a stop sign. Officer Fennell activated his lights and siren in an attempt to effectuate a traffic stop. Demenczuk did not stop but continued driving to his residence. When Demenczuk exited the vehicle, he began screaming at Officer Fennell, who noticed an odor of alcohol on his breath. After Officer Fennell called for backup, he conducted field sobriety testing. Demenczuk was unable to recite the alphabet and could not complete the finger-to-nose test.

Once Officer Fennell informed Demenczuk that he was under arrest for suspicion of DUI, Demenczuk became combative and physically resisted the officers’ attempt to place him in handcuffs. He continued to kick and flail while the officers put him in the back of the patrol car. The appellant claimed the officers broke his leg in the struggle. When an officer opened the door to check on Demenczuk’s foot, Demenczuk tried to escape. The officers subdued Demenczuk and again placed him in the back of the patrol car. The appellant refused to submit to chemical testing after being advised of the Pennsylvania Implied Consent Law.

Demenczuk was arraigned in June 2015, and his preliminary hearing was held in August 2015, at which he was represented by private counsel. The trial court gave Demenczuk a trial date of November 15. On that day, Demenczuk requested a continuance to allow him to obtain new private counsel because “financial issues kind of put things on hold.” The trial court granted Demenczuk’s request and rescheduled Demenczuk’s trial for December 2. The trial court warned Demenczuk that he would not receive another continuance to obtain counsel and suggested that if Demenczuk could not afford an attorney, he should contact the Public Defender’s Office before leaving the courthouse.

On November 28, 2015, Demenczuk was notified that he did not qualify for representation by a public defender. Upon contacting the court administrator with this information, Demenczuk was granted a second continuance, and his trial date was rescheduled to February 22, 2016. On that date, Demenczuk appeared for his scheduled trial without counsel and asked the trial court for a third continuance to obtain counsel because he needed time to “gather the funds to pay him.” The trial court noted that the prosecution was ready to present its case, and its witnesses were present. The judge denied Demenczuk’s request for a continuance because he had been previously given nearly three months to obtain counsel after he was denied representation by the public defender.

The trial court held a bench trial and ultimately convicted Demenczuk of DUI, fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, resisting arrest, and a summary traffic violation. Demenczuk appealed, claiming the trial court abused its discretion in denying his request for a continuance, which thereby denied him his right to counsel.

The appeals court held that Demenczuk waived his right to counsel by ignoring the trial court’s repeated directions for him to retain counsel. On Demenczuk’s most recently scheduled trial date, the case had already been continued twice upon his request. Although Demenczuk had been given nearly three additional months to obtain counsel, he failed to make this arrangement and waited until the date of his scheduled trial to ask for a third continuance. He indicated that he was “talking to” another attorney but wanted more time to “gather the funds to pay him.” Besides this assertion, Demenczuk offered no information concerning his efforts to acquire funds for his attorney’s fees and did not indicate when he would be able to retain an attorney.

The court therefore concluded that Demenczuk “denied himself the assistance of counsel when he failed to take steps to retain counsel despite the admonishments of the trial court.” As a result, the appeals court concluded that the trial court did not err in denying Demenczuk’s request for a continuance.

Hiring the right attorney can make all the difference in the world, even if your case seems straightforward or you have no criminal record.  If you find yourself arrested for a DUI, make sure you have a capable attorney on your side. Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney Zachary B. Cooper will be aggressive and will fight to make sure that your rights are protected so that your family and you can move on with your lives. Call (215) 542-0800 for a free consultation to discuss the legal options that may be available to you.

More Blog Posts:

Pennsylvania Educates Teens About Dangers of Distracted Driving, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, November 15, 2016.

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Ignition Interlock Law, Pennsylvania DUI Blog, October 11, 2016.

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rejects Contention That Appellant’s Sentence Violates Ex Post Facto Clause, Pennsylvania DUI Blog, October 3, 2016.

Pennsylvania Appellate Court Reverses DUI Conviction in Light of McNeely, Pennsylvania DUI Blog, September 1, 2016.