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Pennsylvania Superior Court Holds Lower Court Properly Suppressed DUI Defendant’s Blood Draw Evidence

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania appealed from the order granting Colby Michael Snyder’s motion to suppress in a Pennsylvania DUI case. Last month, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the lower court’s decision.

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In June 2016, a Pennsylvania State Trooper noticed Appellee speeding, weaving, and changing lanes without signaling on Interstate 81. The trooper initiated a traffic stop and noticed alcohol emanating from Appellee. When Appellee exited the vehicle, he was unsteady and disoriented. Appellee failed multiple field sobriety tests. A breathalyzer test revealed a BAC of .121.

Appellee was taken to the station where he was read the then-current DL-26 warnings. Those warnings informed Appellee that he would be subjected to increased criminal penalties if he refused to submit to a blood draw. Appellee submitted to a blood draw, which revealed a BAC of .213.

In November, the Commonwealth charged Appellee with various DUI and related traffic offenses. Appellant filed a motion to suppress the blood draw evidence in light of the Supreme Court decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota. In Birchfield, the Supreme Court held that police can force a driver to provide a breath sample without a warrant, but police cannot force a driver to give a blood sample without a search warrant, except in limited circumstances. The trial court suppressed the blood draw evidence after a hearing, and the Commonwealth appealed.

The Commonwealth presented two issues for review: (1) whether the trial court improperly applied the exclusionary rule where there was probable cause and the police followed established precedent; and (2) whether the trial court improperly suppressed the results of Appellee’s blood draw when Appellee provided valid consent for the blood draw.

First, the Commonwealth argued that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied. After Appellee’s case was briefed, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held in a separate case that the good-faith exception does not apply to claims brought pursuant to Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The court explained that the fact that police acted in good-faith reliance on appellate precedent was irrelevant to the admissibility of the blood draw evidence. Thus, the court held that the trial court correctly concluded that the blood draw evidence was not admissible pursuant to the good-faith exception in Appellee’s case.

The Commonwealth next argued that Appellee’s consent was voluntary. When a defendant is given partially inaccurate DL-26 warnings, the trial court must evaluate his or her consent based on the totality of the circumstances and given the partial inaccuracy of the officer’s advice. The appeals court concluded that the trial court’s finding that the Commonwealth did not prove Appellee’s consent was voluntary was well-founded. Appellee was clearly in custody, which weighed against a finding of consent.

The court also reasoned that the Commonwealth used coercive tactics. The trooper read Appellee incorrect DL-26 warnings. While the trooper acted in good-faith reliance on then-applicable precedent, his incorrect reading was coercive, the court concluded.

The Commonwealth argued that Appellee knew he had a right to refuse a blood draw because the DL-26 warnings informed him of this right. The Commonwealth also argued that the license suspension following a blood draw refusal equates to increased criminal penalties. But the appeals court explained that it had previously rejected comparable arguments. The appeals court held that the fact that the DL-26 warnings improperly told Appellee that he faced increased criminal, rather than civil, penalties if he refused a blood test was the relevant factor.

The Commonwealth next argued that Appellee’s prior DUI arrests proved he was familiar with the the DUI arrest process. The appeals court concurred, but rejected the inference the Commonwealth drew next. These prior arrests for DUI indicated that Appellee was not aware of his right to refuse a blood draw. The inaccurate DL-26 warnings told Appellee that he would face increased criminal penalties if he did refuse a blood draw. This was not the first time that Appellee was read these warnings. He was informed several times that refusing to consent to a blood draw would result in harsher penalties. This also cut against a finding of consent.

Finally, the Commonwealth argued that Appellee’s cooperation in performing field sobriety tests and taking a breathalyzer proved that he was cooperating with the police. The court agreed that this factor cut in favor of voluntariness. There were no signs that Appellee stopped cooperating with law enforcement.

Nonetheless, the court concluded that, on the whole, the record supported the trial court’s finding that the Commonwealth did not prove consent. The court therefore affirmed the order granting Appellee’s suppression motion.

Hiring the right attorney can make all of the difference in the world, even if your case seems straightforward or you have no prior 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 can 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 consultation to discuss the legal options that may be available to you.

More Blog Posts:
Appeals Court Holds Evidence Sufficient to Support Pennsylvania DUI Conviction, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, October 15, 2017

Pennsylvania Superior Court Denies DUI Defendant Post-Conviction Relief, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, October 18, 2017

Pennsylvania Superior Court Denies DUI Defendant Post-Conviction Relief, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, September 15, 2017