A driver appealed the suspension of his driver’s license to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, arguing that the trial court lacked sufficient evidence and committed several legal errors. The Commonwealth Court disagreed and affirmed the suspension. Blalock v. Commonwealth, No. 1592 C.D. 2012, opinion (Pa. Commw. Ct., May 28, 2013). In its order, the court stated that it could only consider whether the trial court had abused its discretion, not whether it got the facts wrong. Since license suspension is a civil proceeding rather than a criminal one, the burden of proof is much lower for the state. Both the trial court and the Commonwealth Court relied on the arresting officers’ testimony that the driver showed “signs of intoxication” during the arrest.
The driver’s arrest occurred in the early morning of February 23, 2012. According to witnesses, he was driving down the center of the road when he collided with another vehicle. The other vehicle was allegedly unable to avoid the collision. He continued for another 100 yards, then left his vehicle and ran into the woods. The driver reportedly told police that he swerved to avoid hitting a deer, then ran into the woods to look for the deer. The driver also stated that he hit his head during the collision, and that this injury might have affected his behavior.
Police stated that the driver exhibited signs of intoxication, such as “slow and deliberate” movements and speech, confusion, and a “faint to moderate” smell of alcohol. He allegedly did not perform well on field sobriety tests, and the officers said that he “exhibited no outward signs of injury.” The officers claim that they read the Form DL-26 warnings to him, which advise of the consequences of refusing chemical testing, and that he signed the form and refused to submit to tests. He later pleaded guilty to careless driving and failure to stay in his lane of traffic. The Department of Transportation (DOT) suspended his license for one year, which the law allows if a DUI suspect refuses chemical testing. He appealed to the Court of Common Pleas. Continue reading