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Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rejects Constitutionality Challenge to DUI Statute

ATVA driver appealed his March 2016 DUI conviction from the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas. Specifically, he contested the court’s denial of his motion to suppress the results of his blood alcohol content (“BAC”) test, and he challenged the constitutionality of section 1543(b)(2) of Pennsylvania’s vehicle code. The Pennsylvania Superior Court disagreed and affirmed the driver’s convictions.

A state trooper was responding to the reported theft of an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) when he was notified that the complainant had stopped the alleged thief on a nearby road. When the trooper arrived, the driver was standing next to an ATV in the roadway. The complainant was in a truck parked behind the driver’s ATV, and two other state troopers were also present.

The officer asked the driver for identification and inquired about what had happened. The driver replied that his son and he had taken an ATV from the complainant’s house as collateral for money the complainant owed the son. The officer, however, determined that the ATV on the roadway actually belonged to the driver, rather than the complainant. The officer smelled a moderate odor of alcohol emanating from the driver, and he indicated the driver slurred his speech and appeared to be stumbling. The officer asked the driver if he had been drinking, and he replied he consumed beer that day. He also stated he had been operating the ATV on the roadway.

The officer then administered the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, a field sobriety test. Based on the above observations, he placed the driver under arrest on suspicion of DUI. Later lab tests indicated that the driver had a BAC of 0.140.

The driver was charged with DUI and related summary offenses. He filed an omnibus pretrial motion, seeking to suppress the results of the BAC test. After argument, the court denied the motion. After a bifurcated trial, the court convicted the driver of the following:  DUI with a BAC of .02 or greater while operating privilege is suspended or revoked; driving while license suspended; driving an unregistered vehicle; operation of a motor vehicle without required financial responsibility; operating an ATV on streets and highways; failure to register ATV; no registration plate; operation of an ATV while under the influence of alcohol; and no ATV liability insurance. The court sentenced the driver to 90 days’ incarceration and a fine.

On appeal, he presented the following issues for review:  (1) whether the trial court erred in not finding that section 1543(b)(2) of the vehicle code violates due process; and (2) whether the trial court erred when it denied his pre-trial motion to suppress.

The appeals court rejected the driver’s constitutionality claim, due to his failure to raise this issue before the trial court. Moreover, even if he had properly preserved this issue, the court explained that the Pennsylvania Superior Court had previously found it to be without merit.

Regarding the second issue, the driver argued the officer’s investigative detention took place prior to his alleged statement that he drove on the roadway, meaning the detention occurred before the officer had a reasonable suspicion to stop him. He repeatedly insisted his proximity to the ATV did not prove he actually operated it, and without such proof, the state’s case was untenable. He contended the officer also lacked probable cause to arrest him, since the officer failed to describe the extent of his stumbling or slurred speech.

The appeals court disagreed. The officer testified that he received a dispatch directing him to report to a nearby road, where the complainant of a theft claimed to have stopped the thief. When the officer arrived, the driver admitted to taking an ATV from the complainant as collateral for a debt owed. Despite the later discovery that the driver was the owner of the ATV at the scene, the officer had a reasonable suspicion to believe that criminal activity was afoot and that the driver was a participant in that activity. Although the driver ultimately was not charged with theft following this encounter, that did not invalidate the officer’s reasonable suspicion for conducting the investigatory detention. Thus, the court concluded that the driver’s contention that the officer lacked the reasonable suspicion necessary to conduct a brief investigatory detention was without merit. The court further concluded that based on the officer’s observations regarding the driver’s drinking, he had probable cause to arrest on suspicion of DUI.

Finally, the court held that the driver’s failure to raise the issue of his consent to the warrantless blood draw at any time prior to his opening brief in this appeal precluded its review of the claim.

For these reasons, the court affirmed the judgment of sentence.

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 Holds DUI Arrest Supported by Reasonable Suspicion, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, April 13, 2017.

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Remands DUI Conviction in Light of Birchfield, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, March 15, 2017.

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Upholds Defendant’s DUI Conviction, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, March 15, 2017.