Articles Posted in Birchfield

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In June 2016, the United States Supreme Court issued Birchfield v. North Dakota, which held that a DUI suspect may not be informed they are subject to increased punishment in the event of refusing a blood test. A Pennsylvania DUI defendant who was arrested after Birchfield, but before the General Assembly’s July 2017 amendment of the Criminal Code, appealed her license suspension for refusing to submit to chemical testing pursuant to Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent Law.

beerIn June 2016, PennDOT created an amended DL 26B form in response to Birchfield. On July 20, 2017, the Pennsylvania governor approved 2017 Act 30, which amended Section 1547(b)(2) to remove language that requires an officer to give admonitions relating to enhanced criminal penalties for refusing a blood test.

Upon the defendant’s arrival at the central booking center, the officer requested that she submit to a chemical test of her blood and read her the new DL-26B form, thereby warning her that the Department would administratively suspend her driver’s license for at least 12 months for refusing to submit to a blood test. He did not advise her, however, that she would be subject to enhanced criminal penalties upon refusal. The defendant refused, and the Department issued the notice of suspension at issue. The defendant appealed to the trial court, which held a hearing, rejected the defendant’s argument, and upheld the suspension. Her timely appeal followed.

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On June 23, 2016, the United States Supreme Court issued North Dakota v. Birchfield, which held that warrantless blood tests cannot be justified under the search incident to arrest rationale, and, as a result, a driver may not be informed they are subject to increased punishment in the event of refusal. This watershed decision meaningfully affects Pennsylvania DUI prosecutions and others throughout the country.

courtroom-1-1236725-300x201A defendant appealed from his DUI conviction, asserting that the trial court erred in denying his post-sentence motion to withdraw his guilty plea to enable him to take advantage of Birchfield. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed.

In February 2016, a Pennsylvania state trooper suspected the defendant of driving under the influence during a routine traffic stop. The defendant consented to a blood draw, and he was subsequently charged with various DUI-related offenses. In June 2016, he entered into a negotiated guilty plea and was sentenced to six months’ intermediate punishment. He did not file a motion seeking to suppress his blood test results. Birchfield came out two days after the defendant’s sentence.

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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.

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Pennsylvania DUI law can often be nuanced and complex, as a recent case illustrates. In December 2014, K.W. was involved in an accident in Cameron County in which her car struck two pedestrians. One of the pedestrians sustained serious injuries, and the other was pronounced dead at the scene. When police arrived, Trooper J.R. asked K.W. to perform a field sobriety test, which she performed poorly. K.W. then submitted to a portable breath test, after which she was placed under arrest on suspicion of DUI.

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The police transported K.W. to the hospital for a blood test. There, Trooper J.R. read K.W. the O’Connell and implied consent warnings, as contained on the Pennsylvania State Police DL-26 form, after which K.W. consented to a BAC test. K.W. was subsequently charged with the following: homicide by vehicle while DUI; aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI; DUI of alcohol or controlled substance; DUI of alcohol or controlled substance with a BAC of .178%; DUI of alcohol or controlled substance; and careless driving.

Prior to trial, K.W. filed a motion to suppress the results of the BAC test based on Birchfield v. North Dakota. In August 2016, following a suppression hearing, the suppression court granted K.W.’s motion, and suppressed all evidence from the BAC test. The Commonwealth appealed, raising the following issue for review: “Did the trial court err in suppressing the results of the testing of [K.W.’s] blood, after a fatal, suspected DUI motor vehicle accident, on the basis of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota?