Articles Posted in Post Conviction Relief

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In a recent Philadelphia DUI case, the Pennsylvania Superior Court vacated the appellant’s illegal probation revocation sentence and remanded for further proceedings.

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In February 2008, the appellant was arrested in Philadelphia for suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana. A subsequent blood test showed that his blood had traces of marijuana. Roughly eight months later, he was again arrested for suspicion of DUI. A subsequent blood test showed that his blood had traces of marijuana.

In April 2009, he appeared before the Philadelphia Municipal Court to plead guilty to both the February 26th and October 16th DUI offenses. He entered into a negotiated plea deal in which his February 26th DUI would be sentenced as a “first offense,” and his October 16th DUI would be sentenced as a “second offense.”

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On June 23, 2016, the United States Supreme Court issued North Dakota v. Birchfield, which held that warrantless blood tests cannot be justified under the search incident to arrest rationale, and, as a result, a driver may not be informed they are subject to increased punishment in the event of refusal. This watershed decision meaningfully affects Pennsylvania DUI prosecutions and others throughout the country.

courtroom-1-1236725-300x201A defendant appealed from his DUI conviction, asserting that the trial court erred in denying his post-sentence motion to withdraw his guilty plea to enable him to take advantage of Birchfield. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed.

In February 2016, a Pennsylvania state trooper suspected the defendant of driving under the influence during a routine traffic stop. The defendant consented to a blood draw, and he was subsequently charged with various DUI-related offenses. In June 2016, he entered into a negotiated guilty plea and was sentenced to six months’ intermediate punishment. He did not file a motion seeking to suppress his blood test results. Birchfield came out two days after the defendant’s sentence.

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When a DUI defendant loses at trial, he or she can appeal to the intermediate court based on legal errors that potentially occurred at trial. One such challenge is sufficiency of the evidence. For example, a Pennsylvania DUI defendant recently argued on appeal that the evidence produced at his DUI trial was insufficient to sustain his conviction. Finding the defendant’s arguments frivolous, his attorney filed a petition to withdraw as counsel. After review, the Pennsylvania Superior Court granted counsel’s petition to withdraw and affirmed the defendant’s conviction.beer glass

The defendant’s jury trial was held on May 17, 2017. There, the arresting officers testified that on April 18, 2016, at 9:24 p.m., they saw his Cadillac sedan double-parked in the middle of the northbound travel lane. The car’s engine was off, but its hazard lights were on. The officers testified that the defendant’s car was positioned in the road in a way that no traffic could travel by him without first having to cross a double-yellow line. As soon as the officers pulled up behind the defendant’s car, he started the Cadillac’s engine and pulled away. The officers yelled for the defendant to stop, and he obeyed. When they approached the driver’s side door of the defendant’s car, the officers noticed that two children were in the rear passenger-side seat. The passengers, aged eight and 10, were the defendant’s son and daughter.

One of the officers removed the defendant from his car and noticed that he could not maintain his balance, had slurred speech, couldn’t follow directions, looked disheveled, had bloodshot eyes, and had breath that smelled strongly of alcohol. The officers found an unopened beer inside the car. After performing poorly on field sobriety tests, the defendant admitted that he had been drinking. At that point, the officers concluded that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol and that it was unsafe for him to drive; they placed him under arrest for suspected DUI.

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A defendant appealed from the February 23, 2016 order entered in the Greene County Court of Common Pleas, denying his petitions filed under the Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA“). This month, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the judgment.

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On December 3, 2013, the defendant pled guilty to theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, criminal conspiracy to commit theft, recklessly endangering another person, fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, aggravated assault by vehicle, DUI, and various summary offenses. On February 13, 2014, the trial court sentenced him to an aggregate term of six to 17 years’ imprisonment.

On March 10, 2014, the defendant filed a timely pro se PCRA petition. The PCRA court appointed counsel, who filed an amended petition. On January 12, 2016, the PCRA court held an evidentiary hearing. On February 23, 2016, the PCRA court denied the petition. The defendant filed timely notices of appeal.

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A defendant appealed from the judgment of a sentence of nine to 16 months’ imprisonment entered in the York County Court of Common Pleas following his bench trial convictions of DUI, possession of a small amount of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, and driving under suspension, DUI-related. He challenged the sufficiency of the evidence for his possession of a small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia convictions. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed his conviction.

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The defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient because the Commonwealth failed to establish he constructively possessed the marijuana or drug paraphernalia found in the vehicle he was driving. He contended that the evidence did not prove that he knew the drugs or drug paraphernalia were in the vehicle or that he intended to possess or exercise dominion over the drugs. He emphasized that the vehicle in question belonged to his wife, and, as a passenger at the time in question, she was within arm’s reach of the contraband. Therefore, he claimed the evidence failed to establish that he was responsible for the drugs and drug paraphernalia in the car. Thus, he argued that the court should vacate his judgment of sentence. The Pennsylvania Superior Court found to the contrary that no relief was due.

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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.

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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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Matthew Scott Diehl appealed from his 9 1/2 to 19 years’ sentence after a jury convicted him of various DUI-related charges, including homicide by vehicle while DUI and third-degree murder. Diehl contended the trial court erred when it allowed the state to introduce evidence of his 2005 DUI conviction and alcohol awareness classes as evidence of malice in support of the third-degree murder charge. The appeals court disagreed. siren-1182291

In the early morning hours of April 27, 2013, Fire Chief Rodney Miller of the Loganville Fire Department – the victim – was closing lanes of I-83 to allow for an emergency helicopter landing. To divert traffic, Chief Miller parked his truck diagonally across both lanes. The truck was equipped with oscillating emergency lights.

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The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently reversed a lower court order granting defendant James Finley early parole. mcvegas-1252230

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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Doug Kerr [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)], via FlickrA Pennsylvania man appealed his conviction of driving under the influence (DUI)—incapable of safely driving and DUI—highest rate of alcohol, arguing that the arresting officers lacked reasonable suspicion of a crime when they stopped his car, and that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled, in Commonwealth v. Landis, that the defendant was entitled to a new trial on the “weight of the evidence” argument. It held that the trial court abused its discretion by incorrectly applying the law.

Pennsylvania State Troopers pulled the defendant over on State Route 35 at 2:40 a.m. on April 4, 2010, after allegedly witnessing his vehicle weave within its lane and cross the center double-yellow line several times. The defendant admitted to having several drinks. The troopers arrested him and took him to a nearby hospital, where a medical technician drew blood and conducted a single chemical test using an Avid Axsym machine. The test showed blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.164 percent.

At trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress for lack of reasonable suspicion, which the trial court denied. He challenged the reliability of the Avid Axsym machine. The medical technician testified that the machine had a ten percent margin of error, which was not considered in its BAC report. The defendant argued that the Avid Axsym machine was less reliable than a gas chromatography test, and that his BAC result based on a single test was unreliable. A jury found him guilty, and the trial court sentenced him to a prison sentence of ninety days to five years less one day. Continue reading

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By Ken Lund from Reno, NV, USA [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsA defendant was convicted of DUI in the Court of Common Pleas of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania after a bench trial. He appealed the conviction and sentence to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, questioning whether the arresting officer had probable cause to request a blood test, and whether the court violated the defendant’s due process rights by denying him a jury trial. The court dismissed the appeal, however, because the defendant did not raise these issues with the trial court, and therefore did not preserve them for appeal. Comm. v. Halcovage, No. 564 MDA 2013, memorandum (Penn. Super. Ct., Jan. 7, 2014).

According to the court’s memorandum, a police officer stopped the defendant’s vehicle just after 11:00 p.m. on July 15, 2011 after observing him speeding. The officer claimed that he observed telltale signs of intoxication, including “red, blood-shot and glassy eyes” and “a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage.” The defendant allegedly admitting to drinking “one or two beers.” He allegedly failed a field sobriety test, and a portable breath testing device showed blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.13 percent. The officer took him to the emergency room at Schuylkill Medical Center, where he consented to having blood drawn. The blood sample also showed 0.13 percent BAC.

The defendant was charged with DUI – general impairment and DUI – high rate of alcohol. The court conducted a bench trial on December 6, 2012 and found him guilty of both DUI charges. On March 5, 2013, it sentenced him to forty-eight hours to six months in prison. The defendant submitted a statement of error, as required by Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 1925(b), identifying five points of error. The trial court ruled on all five points, and the defendant filed an appeal. Continue reading