Articles Posted in Defending the Case

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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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The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently upheld appellant Renaire Lewis’s conviction for DUI despite his argument that the stop violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

In the early morning of July 2014, Lower Pottsgrove Police Sgt. Greenwood was investigating a vehicle (“Vehicle 1”) stopped on Buchert Road, which was blocking the lane. During his investigation, Sgt. Greenwood heard a second vehicle (“Vehicle 2”) driven by Lewis accelerating toward him. Sgt. Greenwood attempted to alert Lewis of the danger by waving his flashlight, but appellant continued to drive toward the obstruction. Lewis then slammed his brakes, causing his tires to screech. As Lewis decelerated, he swerved into the eastbound lane of Buchert Road to avoid colliding with Sgt. Greenwood or Vehicle 1.

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Like many people in Pennsylvania, you find your self in a situation you never thought to be in.  You have just been arrested for a DUI.  You think to yourself “how could this happen to me” or “how will this affect my family”.  It is important to understand what your rights are when you are arrested and what your options are moving forward. The first thing that you need to understand is the criminal process in Pennsylvania, specifically when it comes to DUI.

After a person is arrested for a DUI, the first significant step after that is the preliminary hearing.  At the preliminary hearing the Commonwealth must show that there is enough evidence to hold this case over to the Court of Common Pleas.  Usually in a DUI case the blood or breath report is typically enough to achieve this goal since the standard at this level is VERY low. Many times rather then have a hearing an attorney may advise their client to just waive the charges to the next level.  One reason this may be is because in order to be admitted into Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition https://www.pennsylvaniaduilawyers.com/a-r-d-accelerated-rehabilitative-disposition.html or “ARD” some counties require a person to waive their preliminary hearing. If an individual is NOT eligible for ARD  having a hearing so the affiant or police officer takes the witness stand and testifies to what ALLEGEDLY happened is a very good idea. After a hearing it is then up to a District Judge to make a determination as to whether there is enough evidence to hold the charges over to the next level.

The next phase after the preliminary hearing the case moves up to the Court of Common Pleas in each individual county.  For instance in Montgomery County that would be Norristown, in Delaware County it would be in Media, Chester County would be in West Chester, and Bucks County would be in Doylestown. If a person has applied for ARD and eventually accepted, an ARD hearing will be scheduled in which both client and attorney will have to appear in order to be admitted into the program.   If on the other hand a person is not going into ARD their case will be assigned an Assistant District Attorney as well as an assigned Judge.  At this point an individual arrested for DUI is entitled to ask for all the discovery or evidence that the Commonwealth has.  This is done through an attorney filing a request for discovery with the district attorney’s office.  Discovery can include reports, videos, physical evidence or really just about anything the Commonwealth has in their possession that they intend to use to prosecute at the time of trial.  A qualified DUI attorney will then file any appropriate motions to make sure their client is getting the absolute best result.  One of the most common motions to file is a Motion to Suppress if  for instance the police stopped a vehicle illegally.

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The news occasionally reports on people getting arrested for suspected DUI after police find them asleep in their parked vehicle. This raises the question of how one could be suspected of driving under the influence if the car is parked and you are not actually driving it. Pennsylvania’s DUI statute applies to more than just actual driving. A person may be found guilty of DUI if he or she is “in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle” while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The definition of “actual physical control” is not very precise, though, and Pennsylvania courts have reached different conclusions under varying circumstances, often depending on the location of the vehicle.

One story reported in Pennsylvania about a year ago involved the arrest of a man found asleep in a parked car in Lowhill Township. He had reportedly been delivering newspapers early on a Sunday morning, when he stopped the car and fell asleep parked by the side of the road. Police claimed that the person had an open can of beer in the vehicle’s center console, as well as more unopened cans in the back seat. Chemical testing allegedly found that his blood alcohol content (BAC) exceeded the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

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Courts have developed an extensive body of law regarding driving under the influence of alcohol, commonly known simply as “DUI.” Pennsylvania law does not limit the DUI statute to “drunk driving,” however. It also prohibits “drugged driving,” including driving under the influence of certain “controlled substances,” or while “impaired” by drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol. An important question regarding “drugged driving” cases deals with whether proof of “influence,” rather than “impairment,” is enough to support a conviction. Another critical question involves how the state may prove impairment if it is required to do so.

State law has established minimum concentrations of certain controlled substances, similar to the levels of blood alcohol content (BAC) used to prove that a person is “under the influence.” However, the controlled-substance levels merely demonstrate “influence,” while higher BAC results are used to establish “impairment.” The DUI statute prohibits driving if a person has nearly any amount of certain controlled substances in his or her system. It does not offer any guidance on how to determine impairment.

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Most discussions of the laws regarding driving under the influence (DUI) in Pennsylvania focus on alcohol and chemical testing for blood alcohol content (BAC). The Pennsylvania DUI statute also applies to various “controlled substances,” which includes marijuana and other illegal drugs, as well as certain medications obtained with a valid prescription. In the case of illegal drugs, the mere presence of the drug above certain thresholds is sufficient to establish DUI, regardless of whether the driver is actually impaired. If the driver is under the influence of legally prescribed medications, prosecutors must prove a level of impairment that prevents the safe operation of a motor vehicle.

The Pennsylvania DUI statute identifies three levels of impairment due to alcohol, based on chemical testing within two hours of driving. Pennsylvania’s implied consent statute enables police to obtain breath or blood samples to establish BAC. The DUI statute does not identify specific amounts of other controlled substances but rather focuses on their legality. The determination of whether a drug is “illegal” is based on the schedules established by the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act, first enacted in 1972. An “illegal” drug, for the purposes of the DUI statute, is any Schedule I controlled substance, any Schedule II or III substances for which the driver does not have a valid prescription, or the metabolites of any of those substances.

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The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a bill in June 2014 that increases the minimum penalties for certain vehicular homicide convictions. The bill provides for an increased minimum prison sentence and permanent license suspension for the offense of “homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence.” It would apply to defendants with previous convictions for any DUI offense, not just felony DUI, or for other serious traffic offenses. The bill’s sponsor cites the danger of repeat offenders, but the bill casts a very wide net, applying to anyone with a prior DUI offense at any level.

Representative Dan Moul (R-Adams/Franklin) introduced House Bill 1733 in October 2013. He nicknamed the bill “Angie’s Law,” after a woman who was reportedly killed in an automobile accident in September 2012. The other driver had an arrest for DUI from the previous year and had reportedly entered a rehabilitation program prior to the accident. He pleaded guilty to homicide by vehicle while DUI, and the court sentenced him to three and a half years in prison.

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A new law passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature and signed by the Governor closes a loophole in Pennsylvania law, according to the bill’s supporters, that encouraged people who were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) to flee the scene of an accident in certain situations. Supporters of the bill argued that drunk drivers had an incentive to flee the scene in order to avoid a DUI charge. The new law, which will take effect on or about August 29, 2014, increases the minimum penalty for fleeing the scene of a fatal automobile accident, thereby removing any incentive to flee and closing the loophole.

Pennsylvania law requires any person involved in an accident that causes injury or death to stop immediately and remain at the scene of the accident. The driver must provide his or her name, address, and vehicle registration number to any other driver involved in the accident. Upon request, the driver must show his or her driver’s license and proof of insurance. Under current law, the penalty for failing to stop after an accident, commonly known as “fleeing the scene,” which has resulted in a person’s death is a minimum sentence of one year in prison and a minimum fine of $2,500. Minimum sentences and fines for DUI convictions are often much lower than this.

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People who operate vehicles in Pennsylvania have consented to chemical testing, simply by virtue of operating a vehicle, if they are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), according to Pennsylvania law. This applies even if a person is operating a bicycle at the time police seek to perform a chemical test, according to a recent ruling by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in Bilka v. Commonwealth. The defendant appealed an 18-month license suspension ordered after he refused to submit to blood testing. He argued that the implied consent law did not apply to him because he was riding a bicycle, which does not require a license, at the time of his arrest. The trial court and Commonwealth Court disagreed and affirmed the license suspension.

A police officer stopped the defendant, who was on a bicycle, shortly before midnight on September 15, 2011. The officer alleged that he observed the defendant run a red light, and that the bicycle lacked the headlight and side reflectors required by law. He claimed that the defendant smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech, and had trouble walking when he got off the bicycle. After the defendant refused to perform field sobriety testing, the officer placed him under arrest. The defendant refused to submit to blood testing, reportedly telling the officer that he could not be arrested for DUI on a bicycle.

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An appeal in the Pennsylvania Superior Court claimed that a field sobriety test conducted on a snow-covered road, along with breath testing conducted without the 20-minute observation period required by Pennsylvania law, were insufficient to support a conviction for driving under the influence (DUI). The defendant/appellant in Commonwealth v. Favinger challenged the sufficiency of the evidence against him and the legality of the traffic stop that led to his arrest. The Superior Court ultimately affirmed the verdict and sentence, but its opinion offers a useful overview of the different ways that prosecutors may establish that a defendant was impaired by alcohol in a DUI case.

A state trooper pulled the defendant over at about 3:20 a.m. on January 29, 2011. The trooper testified that the defendant continued to travel about half a mile after the trooper activated his emergency lights, finally stopping in a driveway. He claimed that he detected the odor of alcohol, and that the defendant’s eyes were “bloodshot and glassy.” The defendant agreed to field sobriety testing, which the trooper claimed he failed. Breath testing conducted after the defendant’s arrest showed blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.128 percent. The defendant was later convicted of DUI–general impairment and DUI–high rate of alcohol.

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