Articles Posted in Blood Testing

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The United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Birchfield v. North Dakota drastically changed the prosecution of DUI cases throughout the country. In Birchfield, the Court held that a DUI defendant cannot be subject to warrantless blood tests or face increased criminal penalties for refusing to submit to blood testing. The Birchfield verdict immediately affected the prosecution of DUI cases filed after the decision was rendered. In many states, however, it remains unclear whether Birchfield should be applied retroactively to cases that were pending when it was decided. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania recently granted an appeal in Commonwealth v. Hays on the sole issue of whether Birchfield should apply to Pennsylvania DUI cases that were not final when the decision was rendered.drunk driving

In Commonwealth v. Hays, the defendant was detained due to a traffic violation on April 11, 2014. When the police officer approached the vehicle, he observed a strong odor of alcohol coming from the defendant. As a result, he requested that the defendant perform field sobriety testing. The defendant failed the field sobriety tests and was transported to a facility for further testing. At the facility, he was read the standard warning, which stated, in part, if he refused to submit to a blood test, his license would be suspended for at least one year, and he would face other additional penalties. Following the warning, the defendant submitted to the blood test, which indicated his blood alcohol level was .192. He was charged with DUI and DUI at the highest rate of alcohol. On August 25, 2016, following a jury trial, the defendant was convicted on both charges and sentenced to five to six days in jail.

The defendant then filed a post-trial motion, arguing pursuant to the United State Supreme Court’s ruling in Birchfield, which was decided the day after his jury trial, his consent to the blood draw was not involuntary, and his conviction should be vacated. Specifically, the defendant argued that he only consented to the blood test due to the fear of increased criminal penalties, and therefore, his consent was invalid. The Commonwealth argued the defendant was not entitled to post-conviction relief because he did not preserve the issue before or at trial. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion and ordered a new trial. The Commonwealth appealed.

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Under Pennsylvania law, if you are detained due to suspicion of DUI and refuse to submit to chemical testing, the Department of Transportation may suspend your license for one year. While the police are required to warn a suspect of the consequences of refusing to take a blood or breath test, they do not have to inform a suspect of what behavior is considered a refusal. The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania recently clarified what constitutes refusal to submit to chemical testing under Pennsylvania DUI law and held that conduct other than an explicit refusal may be considered a refusal to submit to testing.  gavel

In Lukach v. Commonwealth et al., the suspect’s operating privileges were suspended for one year due to her refusal to submit to chemical testing following her arrest for suspicion of DUI. She appealed the suspension, arguing the trial court erroneously found she refused to submit to chemical testing. On appeal, the court affirmed the suspension.

The suspect was stopped for committing a traffic violation. She admitted consuming alcohol prior to driving, and failed a field sobriety test and a breath test. She was arrested for DUI and administered implied consent warnings, after which the arresting officer requested that the suspect submit to a blood test to accurately assess her blood alcohol content. The suspect initially agreed to submit to the test, but then requested to speak to an attorney and her sister prior to submitting to the test. She then asked for time to reconsider taking the blood test. The officer deemed the suspect’s behavior as a refusal to submit to the blood test.  As such, the Department of Transportation received notification that the suspect refused to submit to chemical testing and her license was suspended for one year.

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Courts throughout the country continue to feel the repercussions of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Birchfield v. North Dakota, as they try to navigate the effects of the decision on current DUI case law and statutes. Birchfield held, in part, that increased criminal penalties could not be imposed on DUI suspects who refused to submit to a warrantless blood test. Currently, if a Pennsylvania DUI suspect refuses to take a blood test to determine his or her blood alcohol level, the prosecution can introduce the suspect’s denial as evidence of awareness of guilt at trial, under the implied consent law of the Pennsylvania motor vehicle code. Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted an appeal on the issue of whether the terms of the implied consent law of the motor vehicle code violate the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, in light of the holding set forth in Birchfield.

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In Commonwealth v. Bell, police stopped the suspect due to his failure to have adequately illuminated headlights. When the police approached the vehicle, they noticed an odor of alcohol on the suspect’s breath, and that his eyes were bloodshot. Upon questioning, the suspect admitted he drank four beers. The suspect was then administered a field sobriety test, which he failed. Additionally, he submitted to a Breathalyzer test, which revealed a blood alcohol concentration of .127%. He was arrested for DUI and transported to a hospital for blood testing; however, he refused to submit to a blood test after he was read the chemical testing warnings.

The suspect, who was charged with a DUI, filed a pre-trial motion to dismiss the charge on the grounds he had a constitutional right to refuse to undergo the blood test. As such, he argued his refusal to submit to the test should be suppressed from evidence.  The court denied the suspect’s motion and allowed the prosecution to introduce evidence of the suspect’s refusal of the blood test, and the suspect was subsequently convicted of DUI.

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The Supreme Court’s holding in Birchfield v. North Dakota, continues to affect how Pennsylvania DUI cases are prosecuted. In Birchfield, the Supreme Court held that police officers could not subject DUI suspects to warrantless blood tests or impose increased criminal penalties for refusing a blood test. Before the Birchfield ruling, Pennsylvania DUI suspects were advised that they would face enhanced criminal penalties if they refused blood tests. Those warnings, which were known as the DL-26 form, were modified post-Birchfield to remove language warning of increased criminal penalties. The new form, DL-26B, however, warns of the possibility of increased civil penalties for failing to submit to a blood test, which has led to confusion among DUI suspects as to what penalties may be imposed for failing to submit to the test.test tubes

Recently, in Commonwealth v. Miller, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that police officers do not have an affirmative duty to advise a DUI suspect they will not face enhanced criminal charges if they refuse a blood test. As such, if a DUI suspect voluntarily consents to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test, the results of the test are admissible, regardless of the suspect’s belief that he will face more severe penalties if he refuses to submit to the test.

In Miller, the suspect was arrested under the suspicion of DUI and then read the revised DL-26B form, which no longer includes warnings of increased criminal penalties for failing to submit to a blood test. The suspect, who had previously been arrested for DUI and read the prior DL-26 form, believed he would received criminal penalties for failing to submit to the blood test and therefore consented to the test. At his trial, the suspect filed a motion to suppress evidence of his blood alcohol concentration test results, arguing his consent was invalid because, based on his prior experience, he believed he would face criminal penalties if he did not submit to the test. The trial court granted the suspect’s motion and the Commonwealth appealed. On appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that the suspect’s subjective belief did not provide grounds for the suppression of the blood alcohol concentration test results.

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Many people mistakenly believe they must submit to a blood test if they are detained due to suspicion of DUI. While this used to be true, the Supreme Court’s decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota changed the legal landscape throughout the country with regards to the use of blood draws in the prosecution of DUI cases. The Birchfield holding has been applied by Pennsylvania courts in overturning DUI convictions based on the results of blood tests, where consent was improperly obtained prior to the test. If you are arrested for suspicion of DUI in Pennsylvania, it is important that you know your rights and protections under the law. If you did not knowingly and voluntarily consent to the administration of a blood test in your Pennsylvania DUI case, the prosecution may not be able to use the results of the blood test against you.DUI

In a recent case ruled on by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth v. Evans, it was held that where an individual only consents to a blood test due to fear of criminal penalties which would be imposed for refusing the test, the consent is not valid. In Evans, Evans was arrested on suspicion of DUI and taken to a hospital for a blood alcohol test. Prior to the administration of the test, the arresting officer gave Evans an implied consent warning but advised him if he did not submit to a blood test he would face stiffer criminal penalties.

At his trial, Evans filed a motion to suppress the results of his blood test, arguing that he was coerced into allowing his blood to be drawn for the test due to the threat of more severe punishment. As Evans did not believe he voluntarily consented to the blood test, he argued it constituted an unreasonable search that violated his constitutional rights and the results of the test must be suppressed. The arresting officer testified that he requested Evans submit to a blood test at the time of his arrest, and advised Evans if he did not agree to the blood test his license would be suspended for a minimum of twelve months. Further, Evans was advised that if he had previous DUI convictions he would be subject to the same penalties as if he was convicted at the highest rate of alcohol. The officer stated that following the warning, Evans consented to the test. Evans testified that he could not recall much of the evening, other than being told he would not go to jail if he consented to the test.

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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?

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A driver appealed from a June 21, 2016 judgment of sentence in a Pennsylvania DUI case, imposing 36-108 months of incarceration for homicide by vehicle, recklessly endangering another person (“REAP“), and driving under the influence of a controlled substance.

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The trial court summarized the facts as follows. The driver was driving her vehicle on Kindig Road, ran a stop sign at the intersection of Kindig Road and Route 97, and pulled out into oncoming traffic on a busy road with a speed limit of 35 miles per hour. Her line of sight going in the southbound direction was completely obstructed by a building as she approached the stop sign. Rather than inch up past the stop sign to look for oncoming traffic, she never stopped and proceeded into the intersection, traveling 12 miles per hour and pulling out directly in front of the decedent’s northbound box truck. The box truck crashed into the driver’s car, crossed the double yellow line, and then crashed into a tow truck driving southbound on Route 97. The evidence also showed that the driver was familiar with her route of travel, the placement of the stop sign, and the nature of the intersecting road.

A jury found her guilty of homicide by vehicle and REAP, but not guilty of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence. The trial court found her guilty of DUI and various summary traffic offenses. In June 2016, the trial court sentenced her to 27 to 84 months of incarceration for homicide by vehicle, a consecutive nine to 24 months for REAP, and a concurrent three to six months for DUI.

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The Commonwealth appealed from an October 17, 2016 order entered in the York County Court of Common Pleas, granting the motion to suppress filed by a defendant in a Pennsylvania DUI case. Since the trial court did not make factual findings regarding whether the defendant consented to the blood draw before or after being improperly warned about the consequences of refusal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court was unable to determine whether the court erred in finding the defendant’s consent was involuntary. The appeals court therefore reversed and remanded.

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On February 8, 2015 in New Cumberland, the defendant was traveling west on Lewisberry Road. The victims were entering Lewisberry Road from Poplar Road when they were hit by the defendant’s car. One victim, who was driving at the time of the incident, was ejected from his vehicle and later pronounced dead. The other victim sustained severe injuries, including a brain injury, a shoulder injury, and internal injuries. Immediately following the incident, she was transported to Hershey Medical Center for treatment.

An officer spoke with the defendant on the scene after he was placed in the ambulance. The defendant advised the officer he was heading home at the time of the incident after picking up food for his family. At that time, the officer smelled a strong oder of alcohol coming from the defendant’s breath, and when asked, he stated he had consumed one beer earlier that day.

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forestA driver appealed from the August 26, 2016 judgment of sentence entered in the Mercer County Court of Common Pleas following his bench trial conviction for driving under the influence — highest rate of alcohol. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed.

In disposing of the driver’s motion to suppress, the trial court set forth the following facts. On October 3, 2015, at around 4:00 a.m., an officer received a dispatch of a possible accident in Jackson Township. He arrived, and a second marked cruiser arrived on the scene. Upon arrival, the troopers discovered a Jeep Grand Cherokee that had gone off the road and had skidded into a small wooded area.

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