Articles Posted in Defending the Case

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In any Pennsylvania DUI case, the Commonwealth bears the burden of presenting a prima facie case at the preliminary hearing that the defendant committed the crime alleged. In other words, the Commonwealth must show evidence of each element of the crime for the case to proceed. If the Commonwealth is unable to meet this burden, the charges against the defendant will be dismissed. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently analyzed what evidence the Commonwealth must produce to present a prima facie case of DUI general impairment, in a case in which the charges against the defendant were dismissed.  If you were recently charged with a Pennsylvania DUI despite a lack of direct evidence or you committed a crime, you should speak with an experienced Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney regarding your available defenses.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Arrest and Subsequent Trial

Allegedly, in May 2016, the police observed the defendant driving with a suspended license at 3:00 am. She was allegedly driving 30 miles over the speed limit, failed to stop at red lights, and almost drove into a police vehicle. After she was stopped the arresting officer noticed that she had glassy, bloodshot, eyes and her speech was slurred. Additionally, the officer claimed that she smelled like alcohol and was unable to walk. She was subsequently arrested but refused to undergo chemical testing.

It is reported that the Commonwealth filed a criminal complaint against the defendant, alleging DUI – general impairment and driving with a suspended license. Further, the complaint alleged that the defendant refused chemical testing and that the Commonwealth would seek an enhanced sentence. A preliminary hearing was held, after which the court dismissed the refusal aspect of the DUI charge. The Commonwealth withdrew and refiled the charges with the refusal enhancement. A preliminary hearing was held, and the trial court found that the Commonwealth failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant knowingly refused to submit to chemical testing, and therefore, the Commonwealth could not proceed with the enhanced sentence. The Commonwealth appealed.
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It is a widely known fact that a person who is accused of a crime, such as a DUI, is innocent until proven guilty. In Pennsylvania DUI cases, the rule of corpus delicti places the burden on the State of proving a crime has been committed before a defendant’s admission can be admitted into evidence against as proof of a commission of a crime.  Recently, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania discussed corpus delicti in a DUI case in which it was disputed whether the State had introduced sufficient evidence to allow the defendant’s admission of driving while intoxicated to be admitted into evidence. If you were recently charged with a Pennsylvania DUI despite a lack of direct evidence or you committed a crime, you should speak with an experienced Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney regarding your available defenses.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Arrest and Subsequent Trial

Reportedly, the defendant was asleep in the passenger seat of his truck when it rolled into the roadway. The defendant was alone in the truck and the keys were in the ignition. The defendant awoke when the police were knocking on the passenger window. The police noticed a strong odor of alcohol on the defendant and his slurred speech. Additionally, the defendant stated he was the driver of the vehicle and that he consumed alcohol. He was subsequently charged with DUI and careless driving.

It is reported that prior to the trial the defendant filed a motion to preclude evidence of his admission of drinking and driving, due to the State’s lack of evidence a crime was committed. The court denied his motion. The defendant was convicted on both counts, after which he appealed. On appeal, the defendant argued that under the rule of corpus delicti, the trial court erred in denying his motion because the State failed to show that it was more likely than not that a crime occurred. Further, he argued there was insufficient evidence to show he was guilty of DUI.

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In Pennsylvania law, there are several statutory provisions under which a person can be charged with DUI. While some of the DUI provisions require the Commonwealth to prove a defendant’s blood alcohol level at the time of his or her arrest, a person can be convicted for DUI general impairment based on subjective evidence. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently explained what constitutes sufficient evidence of DUI general impairment, in a case in which it affirmed the defendant’s conviction. If you are charged with a Pennsylvania DUI, you should speak with an experienced DUI defense attorney as soon as you can to discuss the facts of your case and possible defenses to your charges.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Arrest

Allegedly, a convenience store manager called the police after a patron whom she believed to be intoxicated got into a van and drove away. A police officer that was located nearby responded to the call within minutes. A traffic stop was initiated and the officer observed that the defendant had bloodshot, glassy eyes and an odor of alcohol. The defendant was swaying and unsteady on his feet and the officer believed he was intoxicated. The officer attempted to have the defendant perform field sobriety tests, but due to oncoming traffic, the tests could not be completed.

It is reported that the defendant was then placed under arrest. He consented to a blood draw which revealed a blood alcohol level of .156 and was positive for THC. The defendant was charged with DUI – general impairment, DUI high rate of alcohol and DUI controlled substances. Following a jury trial, he was convicted on all counts. He appealed, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to prove DUI general impairment.

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If you are stopped for suspicion of a DUI but do not submit to a blood or breath test, the state can nonetheless use circumstantial evidence to charge you with DUI. Typically, in absence of chemical testing, the most detrimental evidence against a DUI suspect is the results of a field sobriety test, which is usually relayed to the court and jury through the testimony of the officer that conducted the test. It is not necessary for the officer testifying regarding the results of the test to be certified as an expert or have actually administered the test, however.

This was recently illustrated in a case in which the Superior Court of Pennsylvania upheld a defendant’s DUI conviction, despite the fact that the officer who testified at trial regarding the results of the field sobriety test was not an expert and had merely observed the test from afar. If you are currently facing Pennsylvania DUI charges, it is prudent to speak with an experienced attorney to discuss what evidence the state may use against you and possible defenses to your charges.

The Defendant’s Accident and Subsequent Charges

Allegedly, the defendant drove through an intersection and struck another car, tearing off the front bumper. A police officer responded to the accident and noticed that the defendant’s speech was slurred and her eyes were red and glossy. The defendant admitted she had been driving and stated she took a muscle relaxant. The officer called for the acting sergeant to administer field sobriety tests. During the test, the defendant was unable to count her steps or maintain her balance, and could not properly blow into the breath test machine. She was then transported to a hospital where she refused to undergo a blood draw. She was subsequently charged with DUI general impairment. During the trial, the officer who originally responded to the accident testified as to the results of the field sobriety test. The defendant was convicted of DUI general impairment, after which she appealed.

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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 Pennsylvania Superior Court recently held that a trial court’s reference to defense counsel’s status as a public defender before the jury in a DUI case was not grounds for a mistrial.

One afternoon in May 2014, Pennsylvania state trooper Michael Perillo was dispatched to Interstate 76-West due to reports of erratic driving. Appellant James Melnick reportedly drove his blue Volvo past other drivers, struck the center concrete barrier, and continued driving. Melnick continued driving recklessly. He nearly struck two vehicles and crossed rumble strips. As he proceeded onto State Route 422 West, Melnick almost struck the guardrail. Once on the road, he drifted out of his lane and struck another vehicle driven by Derek Beeks, who had his four-year-old granddaughter as a passenger.

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Everyday I see individuals who are charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania walk into court and  simply plead guilty. Most of the time I know nothing about their case or what their attorney has done or hasn’t done. People need to understand that just because you are arrested for a DUI that doesn’t automatically mean that your are guilty of the crime.  There are many defenses and ways to challenge a DUI in Pennsylvania and I want to take some time and go through some of them.ILLEGAL STOP

The most common way to challenge a DUI is to argue that the actual stop of the motor vehicle was illegal in some way.  Many times it is argued that the police did not have “probable cause” to stop the vehicle.  There are many ways to prove that there was something wrong with the stop or that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to act accordingly.  One such way which is to see if the officer had a dash cam video and if they did request it immediately. If for instance the officer claims that a motorist  was pulled over because they were “weaving all over the road”, a video may be able to disprove this and have stop thrown out.

FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS

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Pennsylvania is now one of twenty four (24) states to legalize medical marijuana.  Just yesterday Governor Tom Wolf signed this bill into law.  The bill goes into detail on just how patients can take the marijuana if prescribed by a doctor.  Specifically an individual can take the marijuana in a pill, oil or liquid form.  This is important because many people I have talked to thought that when this bill passed they would be able to just smoke marijuana or even grow their own plants and this is just not the case.

The specific legislation that was passed outline seventeen (17) qualified diagnosed conditions that an individual must exhibit in order to be prescribed marijuana. The medical conditions covered include:

  • Cancer
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The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently reversed a lower court order granting defendant James Finley early parole.

In the early morning of August 2013, Sergeant Timothy Clark responded to a report of a person unconscious inside a gray vehicle in a McDonald’s parking lot. Arriving at the scene, the sergeant noticed an empty bottle of Smirnoff Ice on the floor of the suspect’s car. Clark knocked on the driver’s window and awoke the driver. The driver opened the window. He had glassy, bloodshot eyes, but he denied consuming alcohol. Rather than get out of the car, he closed the window and revved the engine. Sergeant Clark grabbed the door handle, but the driver began to flee. Another officer responded as back-up and pursued the fleeing vehicle.

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The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently reversed the lower court’s dismissal of charges against a defendant charged with a DUI on an allegedly private roadway.

In August 2014, Alison Lees was charged with DUI, reckless driving, and careless driving after driving intoxicated from her parking spot and onto a grassy area. The trial court held a pretrial hearing in July 2015. What follows is a description of the evidence presented.

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