Articles Posted in DUI Trial

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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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Under Pennsylvania and federal law, a police officer cannot detain a person without a warrant unless the officer has probable cause. This has been interpreted to mean that an officer cannot stop a vehicle unless the officer observes the driver of the vehicle committing a violation of the Vehicle code or another offense. If a vehicle stop is unconstitutional, any evidence found during the stop should be deemed inadmissible. While some violations clearly provide probable cause for making a vehicle stop, in other cases, it is less clear whether probable cause exists. Recently, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania analyzed whether a police officer had probable cause to stop a vehicle for failing to use a turn signal, in a case where the stop resulted in a DUI charge.  If you are facing Pennsylvania DUI charges and you believe the police lacked probable cause to stop you it is in your best interest to speak with a skilled Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney about your case.

Facts Regarding the Traffic Stop

Allegedly, the defendant was exiting a shopping center parking lot by turning onto a roadway. The defendant failed to use a turn signal prior to turning and was subsequently stopped by a police officer due to the failure to use a turn signal. When the officer was questioning the defendant, the officer reported that he noticed that the defendant was exhibiting signs of intoxication, including uncontrollable laughter, difficulty following instructions, slurred speech, and a strong odor of alcohol. The defendant underwent field sobriety testing, which he failed. He was ultimately charged with DUI-general impairment and DUI-highest rate of alcohol.

It is reported that prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the officer lacked probable cause to stop his vehicle because a turn signal is not required when turning from a parking lot onto a roadway. The court granted the defendant’s motion, after which the Commonwealth appealed.
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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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Clair Fink was charged with DUI, third-degree murder, and related offenses in May of last year. Driving drunk the wrong direction on Route 30 last spring, Fink head-on collided with a vehicle driven by Ligonier police Lieutenant Eric Eslary, killing him.

According to police records, Fink and a co-worker had been drinking for hours in their car before driving the wrong direction on Route 30 at around 2 a.m. He and his coworker at  Westmoreland Pool Company were cresting a hill in their van when it crashed into Lieutenant Eslary’s SUV. Lieutenant Eslary was patrolling near Idlewild Park that night.

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A Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently affirmed appellant Ryan O. Langley’s appeal of his convictions of DUI and driving at an unsafe speed. The court upheld prior precedent holding that (1) an information is required to include facts that might increase the penalty when setting forth the essential elements; and (2) a defendant is not entitled to a jury trial for DUI because the Pennsylvania legislature has categorized the violation as petty for the purposes of a defendant’s jury trial rights.

In November 2013, police responded to a report of a car accident in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania. While investigating the scene, officers spoke with Langley and noticed the odor of alcohol on his breath. After failing field sobriety testing, Langley was placed under arrest for DUI. His BAC was determined to be .092%.

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