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Pennsylvania Appeals Court Vacates Appellant’s Probation Revocation Sentence

In a recent Philadelphia DUI case, the Pennsylvania Superior Court vacated the appellant’s illegal probation revocation sentence and remanded for further proceedings.

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In February 2008, the appellant was arrested in Philadelphia for suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana. A subsequent blood test showed that his blood had traces of marijuana. Roughly eight months later, he was again arrested for suspicion of DUI. A subsequent blood test showed that his blood had traces of marijuana.

In April 2009, he appeared before the Philadelphia Municipal Court to plead guilty to both the February 26th and October 16th DUI offenses. He entered into a negotiated plea deal in which his February 26th DUI would be sentenced as a “first offense,” and his October 16th DUI would be sentenced as a “second offense.”

The court accepted both guilty pleas. The defense then agreed to proceed to sentencing. With regards to the February 26th DUI, the appellant was sentenced as a “first offense” to three to six months’ incarceration, eligible for parole after three days, along with other fines, costs, and conditions. With regards to the October 16th DUI, appellant was sentenced as a “second offense” to 90 days to 12 months’ incarceration, various fines, costs, and conditions, as well as a concurrent 24-month reporting probation. No direct appeal on this matter was ever filed.

Six months after the appellant’s sentencing, the decision in Commonwealth v. Haag was handed down on October 23, 2009. Haag was a statutory interpretation case that essentially interpreted 75 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 3804 and 3806 as requiring a conviction on a first DUI offense prior to the commission of a second DUI offense, in order to sentence the second DUI as a “second offense” under § 3804(b)(2).

Following the April 2009 hearing, the appellant did not follow the terms and conditions of his sentence, including the 24-month reporting probation he received for the October 16th DUI. Numerous violations of his probation occurred, and several bench warrants had been issued with respect to this matter. His own counsel recognized his problems with drug abuse and his “ups and downs” in the DUI Treatment Court Program.

In June 2011, the appellant’s original 24-month probation from the October 16th DUI was revoked by the Municipal Court, and the appellant was sentenced to an additional 24 months of reporting probation.

The appellant continued to violate the terms of his new probation. Despite the help and numerous opportunities given to him to reform his drug abuse problem, he failed to do so, and the Municipal Court sentenced him to six to 23 months and 15 days’ incarceration.

The appellant filed a timely petition for writ of certiorari to the Common Pleas Court, contesting the December 19, 2011 re-sentencing. For the first time, he argued that Haag should be applied retroactively to his original April 13, 2009 guilty plea, thus negating his sentence on the October 16th DUI on the grounds of illegality. The lower court denied the appellant’s petition for a writ of certiorari.

Before the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the appellant challenged the legality of both the 2009 sentence and the 2011 sentence following the revocation of probation. He relied on Haag to argue the sentencing court imposed an illegal sentence on April 13, 2009 because his first DUI conviction did not occur before the commission of his second DUI. He reasoned the 2009 sentence was illegal; therefore, the revocation sentence imposed on December 19, 2011 was likewise illegal. He concluded the court should reverse and remand for re-sentencing. The appeals court agreed that the December 19, 2011 sentence was illegal, but on separate grounds.

The appeals court reasoned that the lower court originally sentenced the appellant on April 13, 2009, deeming the February 2008 DUI as a “first” offense and the October 2008 DUI as a “second” offense for the purposes of Section 3806. Haag was released on October 23, 2009, six months after the appellant’s original sentencing. To the extent the appellant challenged his original sentence imposed on April 13, 2009, the appeals court reasoned, his claims were untimely.

However, the court held, the appellant’s original sentence was undoubtedly illegal when imposed on April 13, 2009 because the appellant’s October 2008 DUI could not constitute a second offense under Section 3806(b) for sentencing purposes. Instead, the February 2008 and October 2008 DUI offenses were both “first” offenses. The appellant, however, failed to file a timely PCRA petition challenging the legality of that initial sentence, in which the claim on the appellant’s behalf would be one exclusively reserved for the PCRA under the circumstances of this case. Therefore, the court held, the appellant’s claim as to the legality of the original sentence was lost.

The court held, however, that the new sentence of 6-23 1/2 months’ incarceration, which the lower court imposed following probation revocation on December 19, 2011, also violated the statute and must be vacated. Upon revocation of probation, the court used the wrong sentencing parameters under Section 3804. The appellant’s failure to dispute his original sentence in a timely manner did not foreclose the appeals court from correcting the subsequent illegal sentence imposed following the probation revocation.

Accordingly, the court reversed the order denying the petition for a writ of certiorari, vacated the probation revocation sentence, and remanded the matter for further proceedings.

If there is an issue with your Pennsylvania DUI sentence, you should hire a skilled attorney as soon as possible. Zachary B. Cooper has significant experience in criminal defense and can competently pursue post-conviction relief. Call (215) 542-0800 for a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Pennsylvania Appeal Court Upholds DUI Defendant’s License Suspension Following Birchfield, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, March 15, 2018

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Holds Evidence Sufficient to Sustain Defendant’s DUI Conviction, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, February 15, 2018.

Pennsylvania Superior Court Holds Lower Court Properly Suppressed DUI Defendant’s Blood Draw Evidence, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, January 19, 2018.