Articles Posted in License Suspension

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Under Pennsylvania DUI law, refusing to submit to a breath test during a stop due to suspicion of DUI can result in a suspension of your license. In some cases, you may be able to come to an agreement with the arresting officer and prosecuting attorney that allows you to avoid a license suspension regardless of the fact that you refused to provide a breath sample. In Hudak  v. Commonwealth, however, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled that the Department of Transportation (DOT) is not bound by a third party agreement and can impose a license suspension regardless of acceptance of the terms of a plea bargain agreement. 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.

Facts of the Case

Allegedly, police stopped the suspect for driving an ATV on a public road without lights. The officer observed an odor of alcohol on the suspect’s breath, after which the suspect admitted to consuming seven beers in the previous hour. The suspect submitted to field sobriety tests, after which the suspect was arrested. Following his arrest, the suspect would not submit to a breath test. He was informed of the consequences for refusing testing pursuant to the Implied Consent Law but still refused to submit to the test.

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If you are convicted of a second DUI offense in Pennsylvania, you may face increased penalties. While in most cases it is clear what constitutes a second DUI offense, in some circumstances clarification is required as to whether a prior disposition of a DUI charge constitutes an offense. In Shaffer v. Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania held that acceptance of Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition (ARD) for a Pennsylvania DUI charge constituted an offense for purposes of license suspension. If you are charged with a DUI and have previously been convicted of a DUI or accepted ARD for a DUI charge, you should consult an experienced Pennsylvania DUI attorney to discuss the facts of your case and determine how to defend against the charges you face.

Facts of the Case

Reportedly, the suspect was charged with a DUI in February 2014, after which he was accepted into an ARD program. The suspect was then arrested for a second DUI in January 2015, prior to his completion of the ARD program. Due to his second arrest, the state filed a petition to terminate the suspect’s participation in the ARD program, which was granted. The suspect then pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of recklessly endangering another person for the 2014 DUI charge, and pleaded guilty to general impairment for the 2015 DUI charge. Reportedly, the suspect was subsequently notified by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that his license was suspended for one year for the 2015 DUI charge, due to the fact the DMV considered his acceptance of ARD a prior offense. The suspect appealed the suspension. On appeal, the Court of Common Pleas affirmed the suspension.

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Most people are aware that if you are stopped due to suspicion of a DUI, the police can request that you submit to a breath test. It is not common knowledge, however, that under Pennsylvania DUI law, you are required to provide two breath samples, and the refusal to provide a second sample can result in suspension of your license. In Flaherty v. Commonwealththe Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania held that police are not required to provide licensees with a form stating they are required to submit to a second test, and that verbally advising drivers of the requirement was sufficient.

Facts of the Case

The suspect in Flaherty was involved in a single car accident. According to the police, when an officer approached the suspect’s vehicle he noticed an odor of alcohol coming from her breath. She stumbled while exiting her vehicle but was not slurring her speech. The officer requested that the suspect submit to a breath test and was advised if she did not submit to a breath test, her license would be suspended for one year. The suspect was then transported to a second location for the breath test, where she was read Form DL-26A, which again warned if she refused to submit to the breath test her license would be suspended for at least one year. The suspect was then verbally advised she would have to provide two breath samples. The suspect stated she would submit to the test, and was directed how to take the test.

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The United States Supreme Court’s decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota, is an important ruling that permanently altered the manner in which DUI cases are prosecuted and what penalties may be imposed, throughout the country. In Pennsylvania, Birchfield continues to cause confusion, however, both among the prosecution and Pennsylvania DUI attorneys, as to what warnings are required and what evidence may be introduced against defendants. In Turner v. Commonwealth, the court clarified that a license suspension could be imposed for failure to submit to a blood test, regardless of the fact the Defendant was not given a warning regarding increased criminal penalties.

In Turner, a police officer noticed Defendant’s vehicle stopped on the side of the highway, with Defendant asleep in the driver’s seat. The officer asked Defendant to submit to field sobriety testing, which Defendant was unable to complete. Defendant admitted to drinking alcohol, but refused to submit to a breath test. He was arrested due to suspicion of DUI and transported to a facility to undergo a blood test. Defendant was warned of the consequences of refusing to undergo a blood test, but was not warned that if he refused the test he would face increased criminal penalties. Defendant refused the test and was subsequently notified his license was suspended for one year. Defendant appealed, arguing the suspension was improper because the police officer did not warn him of increased criminal penalties for refusal of the blood test. Following a hearing, Defendant’s suspension was affirmed and he appealed to the Commonwealth court, which also affirmed the suspension.

The Commonwealth court noted the same issue was ruled upon in a previous case and held it was bound by that ruling. The Defendant argued the police officer was obligated to warn of increased criminal penalties even though they were constitutionally invalid, because such warnings were required by the motor vehicle code. The court stated there was no reason for the police officer to warn of increased criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a blood test, when said penalties were no longer permitted under the Birchfield ruling, and deemed the portion of the code requiring such warnings severable from the remainder of the code. The court went on to say that the Birchfield ruling did not stop the imposition of civil penalties for refusing a blood test, and clarified that a license suspension was a civil penalty and not a criminal penalty. As such, the failure to warn of criminal penalties did not invalidate a civil penalty in the form of a license suspension.

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In June 2016, the United States Supreme Court issued Birchfield v. North Dakota, which held that a DUI suspect may not be informed they are subject to increased punishment in the event of refusing a blood test. A Pennsylvania DUI defendant who was arrested after Birchfield, but before the General Assembly’s July 2017 amendment of the Criminal Code, appealed her license suspension for refusing to submit to chemical testing pursuant to Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent Law.

In June 2016, PennDOT created an amended DL 26B form in response to Birchfield. On July 20, 2017, the Pennsylvania governor approved 2017 Act 30, which amended Section 1547(b)(2) to remove language that requires an officer to give admonitions relating to enhanced criminal penalties for refusing a blood test.

Upon the defendant’s arrival at the central booking center, the officer requested that she submit to a chemical test of her blood and read her the new DL-26B form, thereby warning her that the Department would administratively suspend her driver’s license for at least 12 months for refusing to submit to a blood test. He did not advise her, however, that she would be subject to enhanced criminal penalties upon refusal. The defendant refused, and the Department issued the notice of suspension at issue. The defendant appealed to the trial court, which held a hearing, rejected the defendant’s argument, and upheld the suspension. Her timely appeal followed.