Articles Posted in Post Conviction Relief

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A 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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A 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

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The Superior Court of Pennsylvania vacated the sentence in a case involving a range of charges, from vehicular homicide to driving under the influence (DUI), finding that the trial court failed to merge the offenses when pronouncing sentence. Commonwealth v. Tanner, 61 A.3d 1043 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2013). The “merger doctrine” requires a court, when sentencing a defendant for multiple convictions, to combine all offenses that arise from a single act and impose a sentence based on the most serious offense. In practice, this means that a court cannot impose multiple consecutive prison sentences if the convictions are all based on one act or incident.

According to the court’s order, the accident in question occurred in December 2010. The defendant’s vehicle reportedly crossed into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with another vehicle. Two passengers in the other vehicle suffered serious injuries, and one of them died several days later. A Pennsylvania State Trooper who arrived at the scene later testified that the defendant’s eyes were “bloodshot and glassy” and that he could smell alcohol on her breath. A blood sample taken from the defendant about one hour after the accident reportedly showed a blood alcohol content of 0.18%.

The defendant pleaded guilty to three charges: homicide by motor vehicle while driving under the influence of alcohol, for the death of the passenger in the other vehicle; aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence of alcohol, for the injury to another passenger in that vehicle; and driving under the influence at the “highest rate” of alcohol, for the underlying act of driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.16% or higher. The trial court sentenced her to three consecutive sentences, one for each offense, at the “aggravated range” allowed by law. This resulted in a total prison sentence of between 71 and 142 months in prison. The defendant appealed the court’s denial of her post-sentence motion. Continue reading