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Pennsylvania Appeals Court Vacates Illegally Enhanced DUI Sentence

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently remanded for re-sentencing an appellant’s DUI conviction because he was subjected to enhanced penalties provided by sections 3803 and 3804 for refusing to provide a blood sample, in contravention of the United States Supreme Court’s recent directive.

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In the early morning of February 12, 2015, an officer witnessed a driver’s vehicle sideswipe a legally parked car. The officer initiated a traffic stop. When the driver rolled down the vehicle window, a strong odor of alcohol emanated from the vehicle. The officer and his colleague noticed that the driver had red, glassy eyes, and his speech was slurred.

When the driver exited the vehicle, the officers noticed that he was unsteady on his feet. At that time, the officers arrested the driver for suspicion of DUI. The officers requested that the driver provide a blood sample; however, the driver refused to provide a blood sample. At the police station, he was shown the May 2008 version of a DL-26 form printed in Spanish. That form also requested that the driver provide a blood sample. He refused to read or sign the form.

In April 2015, the Commonwealth charged the driver with DUI-general impairment (with refusal), careless driving, driving without a license, fleeing the scene of an accident, and public drunkenness. In April 2016, the Commonwealth amended the information, and the parties proceeded to a non-jury trial. The driver was convicted of second offense DUI-general impairment (with refusal), careless driving, driving without a license, and fleeing the scene of an accident. That same month, the trial court sentenced the driver to 90 days to five years’ imprisonment on the second offense DUI-general impairment (with refusal) charge. He appealed.

On appeal, he first challenged the sufficiency of the evidence. He contended that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of DUI-general impairment because there was no physical or videotape evidence presented at trial. The court held this argument was frivolous, reasoning that there is no requirement that videotape or physical evidence be presented at trial.

The driver next challenged the weight of the evidence. The court held this argument was waived because such a claim must be preserved either in a post-sentencing motion, a written motion before sentencing, or orally prior to sentencing. Since he did not take any of these steps to preserve the claim, the claim was waived.

The court sua sponte considered the legality of the driver’s sentence. Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States held that states cannot impose criminal penalties upon individuals who refuse to submit to a warrantless blood test because such penalties violate an individual’s Fourth Amendment (as incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment) right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Following this holding, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that sections 3803 and 3804 impose criminal penalties upon individuals who refuse to submit to blood tests. Accordingly, the court had to determine if the driver received criminal penalties for his refusal to submit to a warrantless blood test. If he did, his sentence was illegal.

The officer requested that the driver provide a blood sample after arresting him for DUI. The only invitation by the officer was to provide a blood sample, rather than a breathalyzer test. Thus, the trial court’s finding that the driver refused to provide a chemical sample for testing was based upon his failure to provide a blood sample. The trial court imposed both the 90-day mandatory minimum and the five-year maximum based upon its finding that he refused to provide a blood sample. Accordingly, his sentence was illegal.

The court concluded that, pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s directive, in the absence of a warrant or exigent circumstances justifying a search, a defendant who refuses to provide a blood sample when requested by police is not subject to the enhanced penalties provided in sections 3803 and 3804. Since the driver was subjected to the enhanced penalties provided by sections 3803 and 3804 for refusing to provide a blood sample, his sentence was illegal. While affirming his convictions, the court vacated his judgment of sentence and remanded for re-sentencing.

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.