Articles Posted in Post-conviction

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If you are convicted of a Pennsylvania DUI, the law affords you the right to an assessment of your level of dependency on alcohol and drugs before you are sentenced. If the court fails to provide you with an assessment, your sentence may be overturned. In one recent case, Commonwealth v. Taylor, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania specifically held that the assessment is mandatory and cannot be waived  when it vacated a sentence issued without an assessment.

In Taylor, the defendant pleaded guilty to driving under the influence, which was his second DUI offense. Under the laws of Pennsylvania, a defendant who pleads guilty to or is convicted of a DUI offense must undergo an evaluation to establish the degree of his use of alcohol and drugs. Additionally, individuals like the defendant, who are convicted of two or more DUI offenses within ten years, are to undergo a complete assessment of their addiction to alcohol and drugs.

The assessment is to be done by the Department of Health, the county agency, or an individual licensed to administer drug and alcohol treatment programs. The purpose of the assessment is not only to determine the extent of a defendant’s dependency but also to provide recommendations regarding what level of care and monitoring are best suited for the defendant. If an assessment reveals that a defendant would benefit from further treatment, the statute directs the court to impose the minimum sentence statutorily provided for and a maximum sentence equal to the statutory maximum. The statute further provides that a defendant is eligible for parole following the end of their minimum 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.

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.

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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The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently quashed Zebrick Hyreshie Jones’s appeal from his DUI judgement as untimely.

In April 2014, Trooper Allar arrived beside a disabled vehicle on the shoulder of I-81. Trooper Allar observed damage to the hood and passenger side of the vehicle and a broken front-passenger window. The appellant was in the process of changing the left rear tire, while his girlfriend remained in the passenger seat. Trooper Allar inquired Jones as to the cause of the accident, to which he replied:  “I slipped and hit a tractor trailer.”

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