Articles Posted in Blood Testing

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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.

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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.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.

The suspect filed a motion for reconsideration of his motion to dismiss, averring that the Birchfield decision barred implied consent laws from stating that motorists consent to criminal penalties for failing to submit to a blood test, and therefore, testimony regarding his refusal should have been inadmissible. The trial court granted a new trial in which the prosecution was not allowed to introduce evidence of the suspect’s refusal to submit to a blood test, and the Commonwealth appealed.  While the suspect argued he had a constitution right to refuse the test and should not be subject to stricter penalties for exercising that right, the Commonwealth argued it was not unconstitutional to introduce the suspect’s refusal to submit to the blood test as evidence of guilt at trial.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.