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.