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Pennsylvania Appeals Court Reverses DUI Conviction in Light of Recent Supreme Court Decision

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently reversed and remanded an appellant’s DUI conviction in light of the Supreme Court’s June 2016 ruling in Birchfield v. North Dakota.

Supreme CourtIn August 2013, following a jury trial, appellant Hemant Kohli was found guilty of one count of DUI. The jury also found that Kohli had refused to submit to a blood test. Two months later, the trial court sentenced Kohli to 18 to 36 months in prison, followed by two years’ probation. Kohli did not file a direct appeal.

In September 2014, Kohli filed a counseled Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) Petition. In December 2015, the PCRA court entered an Order granting Kohli the right to file a nunc pro tunc direct appeal, to which the Commonwealth agreed. Kohli accordingly filed the nunc pro tunc appeal and a Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 1925(b) Concise Statement.

On appeal, Kohli raised the following issues:  (1) whether the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to sustain his DUI conviction; and (2) whether the Common Pleas Court erred in imposing a minimum mandatory sentence.

Regarding his first claim, Kohli contended that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. The appeals court swiftly rejected this argument, reasoning that the trial court adequately addressed Kohli’s sufficiency claim and found it to be without merit.

Regarding his second claim, Kohli contended that his mandatory minimum sentence was illegal based on U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Alleyne v. United States. Pursuant to Alleyne, Kohli argued that his sentence was illegal because the jury did not find beyond a reasonable doubt all of the facts necessary to require the imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence. The appeals court first explained that Kohli’s mandatory minimum sentence was imposed based upon Kohli’s prior convictions, his violation of section 3802(a)(1), and his failure to consent to a blood test.

Prior to addressing Kohli’s claim on appeal, the court first addressed whether the imposition of the mandatory minimum sentence violated the recent United States Supreme Court holding in Birchfield v. North Dakota. In Birchfield, the Supreme Court concluded that a breath test, but not a blood test, may be administered as a search incident to a lawful arrest for drunk driving. Additionally, the Supreme Court held that blood tests taken pursuant to implied consent laws are an unconstitutional invasion of privacy, concluding that “motorists cannot be deemed to have consented to submit to a blood test on pain of committing a criminal offense.”

Since the Birchfield Court held that the practice of criminalizing the failure to consent to blood testing following a driving under the influence arrest was unconstitutional, the trial court improperly relied upon section 3804(c)(3) in imposing a mandatory minimum sentence upon Kohli. Since there was no statutory authority to impose the sentence, the appeals court reversed the sentence and remanded for resentencing.

Hiring the right attorney can make all of 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 Superior Court Finds Error in Defendant’s Conviction of Three Counts of DUI for Same Conduct, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, January 4, 2017.

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Holds Lower Court Was Not Required to Impose Mandatory Maximum Sentence on DUI Defendant, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, December 8, 2016.

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Holds DUI Defendant Waived Right to Counsel, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, December 1, 2016.

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