Articles Posted in Blood Testing

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Although the seminal DUI case of Birchfield v. North Dakota was decided three years ago, courts continue to analyze its impact on DUI cases throughout the country, including in Pennsylvania. For example, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania recently addressed the issue of whether the Birchfield ruling should be applied retroactively to vacate sentences handed down prior to the ruling. If you are a resident of Pennsylvania currently charged with a DUI offense, it is in your best interest to consult a diligent Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney to discuss your options.

The Defendant’s Conviction and Sentence

It is reported that the defendant was arrested and charged with DUI – general impairment in September 2015, which was his third DUI offense. The defendant entered an open guilty plea. He was subsequently sentenced to imprisonment for a term of 18 months to five years, which included a sentence enhancement due to his refusal to submit to a blood test to determine his BAC level. He did not file an appeal following his sentencing. In August 2016, however, following the Birchfield ruling, the defendant filed a petition for post-conviction relief, arguing that his sentence was illegal. His petition was dismissed, after which he appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. The Superior Court affirmed the lower court ruling, finding that Birchfield did not apply retroactively. The defendant then appealed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Birchfield’s Impact on Sentences Issued Due to a Failure to Submit to a Blood Test

Generally, a new rule of criminal procedure does not apply to convictions that were final at the time the rule was developed. New substantive rules may be applied retroactively, however, as well as rules that are deemed watershed rules of criminal procedure. In other words, these are rules that involve the essential fairness and correctness of criminal matters. In contrast to substantive rules, procedural rules are intended to improve the accuracy of a sentence or conviction by modifying the manner in which a defendant’s guilt is determined.

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Under Pennsylvania’s implied consent law, anyone driving on Pennsylvania roads is presumed to consent to chemical testing. While an individual who is suspected of DUI is permitted to withdraw his or her consent, it can result in civil penalties, such as the loss of his or her license. Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether the provision of the implied consent statute that permits the Commonwealth to introduce evidence of a person’s refusal to submit to a warrantless blood test as proof of knowledge of guilt. If you are charged with a DUI following a refusal to submit to a blood test it is critical to engage an aggressive Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney to assist you in formulating an effective defense.

Facts of the case

Reportedly, the defendant, who was suspected of DUI, was transported to the Lycoming County DUI center. Upon arrival, he was read the PennDOT DL-26 form, after which he refused to submit to a blood draw. He was charged with DUI general impairment. Prior to the trial, the defendant filed a motion to preclude evidence of his refusal to submit to a blood test, which the court denied.

Allegedly, during the trial, the arresting officer testified that the defendant would not submit to a blood test following his arrest. The defendant was convicted after which he filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that the trial court erred in permitting the Commonwealth to introduce evidence of his refusal to submit to a blood test, arguing that his right to refuse testing was protected by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The trial court granted the motion. The Commonwealth subsequently filed an interlocutory appeal. The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed and remanded. The defendant then sought review.

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In many Pennsylvania DUI cases, the Commonwealth will rely on the results of a blood test to prove a defendant’s intoxication. Recent changes in the law require a police officer that is investigating a person for suspicion of DUI to obtain a warrant to compel the person to undergo a blood test. The police do not need a warrant, however, if a person voluntarily consents to submit to a blood test. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently discussed what constitutes valid consent, in a case in which it overturned the defendant’s DUI conviction for DUI highest rate of alcohol. If you are charged with DUI highest rate of alcohol or another DUI crime it is vital to engage a seasoned Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney to fight to preclude any evidence the Commonwealth should not be permitted to use against you.

Factual Background

Allegedly, a police officer stopped the defendant due to a broken headlight. The officer that stopped the defendant observed an odor of alcohol emanating from the defendant and noticed that his speech was slurred. As such, the officer asked the defendant to exit his vehicle to perform field sobriety tests. The defendant failed the tests and was placed under arrest. The officer then asked the defendant if he was willing to provide a blood sample for blood alcohol testing. The defendant replied, “yes.” The defendant did not ask any additional questions and was not advised that he would face additional penalties if he refused the test.

Reportedly, the defendant’s blood alcohol concentration was 0.232% and he was charged with DUI – highest rate of alcohol and DUI – general impairment. He filed a motion to suppress the result of his blood test on the grounds that his consent was invalid. The court denied his motion, and the defendant was convicted on both counts. He subsequently appealed.
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The landmark case of Birchfield v. North Dakota was decided by the Supreme Court three years ago but continues to affect the status of Pennsylvania DUI law and the prosecution of DUI cases all over the country. For example, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently addressed the issue of whether a blood test consent form that stated that a defendant’s refusal to submit to a blood test could be used as evidence in subsequent proceedings violated the Birchfield holding. If you are charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania and you believed your consent was not properly obtained prior to blood test, it is essential to retain an experienced Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney to help you protect your rights.

Fact Surrounding the Defendant’s Arrest

It is reported that the defendant was stopped at approximately 10:00 am after he passed by police officers at a high rate of speed. The defendant refused to provide the officers with this license and registration, and his eyes were reportedly dilated and bloodshot. He was arrested for suspicion of DUI and transported to the police station for a blood draw. The defendant was read the required warnings, which he signed, and submitted to a blood test. Prior to the trial, he filed a motion asking the court to suppress the results of his blood test, alleging the consent obtained was invalid because the consent form stated that a refusal to submit to testing could be used in subsequent legal proceedings. The court granted the defendant’s motion and the Commonwealth appealed. On appeal, the Superior Court reversed and remanded.

Post-Birchfield Consent to Chemical Testing

Under Pennsylvania law, a defendant’s consent to a search and seizure is only valid when it is knowingly and validly given. The Birchfield holding explained that in the context of a DUI, a driver cannot be deemed to have consented to a blood test when the consent is based on the threat of criminal penalties for refusal. It is important to note, however, the Birchfield ruling only prohibited the imposition of criminal penalties for refusing to consent to a blood test; it did not affect the right to impose civil penalties.
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The Birchfield ruling by the United States Supreme Court, which held that warrantless blood draws were unconstitutional, created a ripple effect in Pennsylvania DUI cases and DUI cases throughout the country. While the Birchfield decision immediately effected the warnings and chemical testing administered to Pennsylvania DUI suspects, it took longer for the Pennsylvania statute regarding criminal penalties for refusing to submit to chemical testing to be modified. Recently, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania addressed the issue of whether the delay in modifying the statute constituted grounds for a motion to suppress the results of chemical testing, ultimately ruling that it did not.  If you are facing Pennsylvania DUI charges it is important to retain a seasoned DUI defense attorney who can explain recent changes in DUI law and how those changes may affect the outcome of your case.

Circumstances Surrounding the Defendant’s Arrest and Chemical Testing

It is alleged that the defendant was stopped for a traffic violation. Upon approaching the defendant’s vehicle, the officer who stopped the defendant observed an odor of alcohol and noticed that the defendant had slurred speech and glassy eyes. The officer administered a field sobriety test and preliminary breath test to the defendant, and then transported the defendant to a medical center for a blood draw. Prior to the blood draw, the defendant was read a warning, which was modified from its prior form to omit any language regarding increased criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a blood test. The defendant signed the form and submitted to the test.

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with DUI – high rate of alcohol. Prior to his trial he filed a motion to suppress the results of his blood test, arguing that his consent was not voluntary because enhanced criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a blood test still existed at the time of his arrest and the police violated Pennsylvania law by refusing to warn him of those penalties. The defendant’s motion was denied, and he was convicted of the DUI charge, after which he appealed.

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An act that was recently signed into law by Governor Tom Wolf amended the Motor Vehicle Code with regards to the penalties imposed for certain DUI violations. Specifically, the changes to the law, which went into effect on December 24, 2018, increase penalties for repeat offenders and for individuals who cause an accident resulting in death while driving under the influence of alcohol. The changes also modify the prior language regarding chemical testing to comply with the changes mandated by Birchfield v. North Dakota.  If you were charged with a DUI, you should consult a knowledgeable Pennsylvania DUI attorney as soon as possible to discuss how the changes in the law may affect your case.

Grading of DUI offenses

Grading of DUI offenses is generally determined based on both the defendant’s blood alcohol level at the time of the alleged violation and whether the defendant has any prior DUI offenses. Prior offenses are not limited to convictions, but also include acceptance into an ARD program and juvenile adjudication. A prior offense will be considered for purposes of grading and sentencing if the judgment for the prior offense was entered within ten years of the current offense. Additionally, the charges a DUI defendant faces depends on the level of his or her impairment at the time of the offense. Impairment may be categorized as general impairment, high impairment, or highest impairment.

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Under Pennsylvania DUI law, you must knowingly and willingly consent to chemical testing for the results of the test to be admissible. If you can show that your consent to a blood test was invalid or coerced, you may be able to suppress the results of the test. Before the Supreme Court of the United States ruling in Birchfield v. North Dakota, a Pennsylvania DUI suspect could face increased criminal penalties for failing to submit to a blood test. After that case decision, the state can no longer impose such penalties.

Recently, in Commonwealth  v. Vanderpool, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania held that submitting to a blood test due to a mistaken belief that a refusal to submit could result in increased criminal penalties is not sufficient to show that consent was invalid. If you are facing DUI charges and refused to submit to a breath, test you should confer with a knowledgeable Pennsylvania DUI attorney to analyze the circumstances surrounding your arrest and discuss your available defenses.

Factual Scenario

Reportedly, the police detained the defendant for suspicion of DUI. At the time of his arrest, the defendant had a suspended license due to a prior DUI conviction. The police transported the defendant to a nearby hospital where he was read the post-Birchfield revised warnings regarding refusal to submit to chemical testing and agreed to submit to a blood test. The test indicated a blood alcohol level of .115%, and the state subsequently charged the defendant with DUI, DUI related offenses, and careless driving. Before the trial, the defendant filed a motion to prohibit the state from admitting the results of his blood test into evidence, which the court denied. Following a trial, the defendant was convicted of all charges. The defendant appealed.

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Under Pennsylvania DUI law, if you are convicted of a second DUI offense within a certain time period, you will likely face greater penalties than if you had no prior DUI convictions. Recent changes in section 3806(b), the provision of the code that determines what constitutes a second offense, modified how time is to be calculated between offenses. In Becker v. Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania held that it is clear the new provision was to be applied retroactively in DUI offenses committed after the amendment of the provision.

In Becker, defendant was charged with a DUI in December 2010 and convicted in October 2012. The provision of the code he was convicted of violating, section 3802(a)(1), prohibits an individual from driving after consuming alcohol to the point where he or she is incapable of driving safely. Defendant’s sentencing included a one-year suspension of his license, which he did not appeal. His license was suspended from December 11, 2012 until December 17, 2013. Defendant was charged with a second DUI for a violation of section 3802(a)(1) on November 6, 2011. He was convicted of his second DUI in August 2015 and his license was suspended under section 3806(b), which was amended in October 2014 to provide that any conviction within ten years of sentencing on a prior conviction constitutes a second offense. Defendant appealed his license suspension, arguing the prior version of section 3806(b), which stated a conviction within ten years of a prior violation constituted a second offense, should apply, as it was the provision in effect during both DUI violations. As defendant’s second violation occurred prior to his conviction for his first offense, he argued it did not constitute a second offense. The trial court denied defendant’s appeal, stating the new section 3806(b) applied. As defendant’s second conviction was after the date of the amendment of section 3806(b), the court found it the new section 3806(b) applied. Defendant then appealed to the Commonwealth court.

The issue on appeal was whether defendant fell within the exception to suspension, which provides that a defendant will not face a license suspension where they are convicted of an ungraded misdemeanor and have no prior offense. To fall under the exception, the defendant must be convicted of violating section 3802(a)(1), must be subject to penalties as set forth in section 3804(a), and must have no prior offenses. While the parties agreed defendant met the first two elements, they did not agree as to whether he had a prior offense. Defendant argued the trial court erred in retroactively applying the new section 3806(b) rather than applying the old section. The court disagreed, noting that new section 3806(b) clearly stated it applied to anyone sentenced after December 26, 2014. As defendant was not sentenced until August 2015, the new section 3806(b) was applicable.

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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.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.

On appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania vacated the trial court’s ruling, agreeing with the Commonwealth that since the defendant did not raise the argument that his blood testing was involuntary prior to or during his trial, he waived the right to assert it as a defense. The court noted that Pennsylvania case law clearly holds that a defendant is not entitled to the retroactive application of a new constitutional rule, unless he or she first raises the issue during trial. Since the defendant did not raise the issue of involuntary consent until after his trial, the court ruled he was not entitled to retroactive application. The defendant subsequently appealed, and the case is before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on the issue of whether Birchfield should be applied retroactively. Whatever ruling the court issues, it is clear it will have a significant impact on Pennsylvania DUI cases that were pending when Birchfield was decided, and it may be persuasive in other jurisdictions ruling on the same issue.

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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.  

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.