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Courts throughout the country continue to feel the repercussions of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Birchfield v. North Dakota, as they try to navigate the effects of the decision on current DUI case law and statutes. Birchfield held, in part, that increased criminal penalties could not be imposed on DUI suspects who refused to submit to a warrantless blood test. Currently, if a Pennsylvania DUI suspect refuses to take a blood test to determine his or her blood alcohol level, the prosecution can introduce the suspect’s denial as evidence of awareness of guilt at trial, under the implied consent law of the Pennsylvania motor vehicle code. Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted an appeal on the issue of whether the terms of the implied consent law of the motor vehicle code violate the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, in light of the holding set forth in Birchfield.In Commonwealth v. Bell, police stopped the suspect due to his failure to have adequately illuminated headlights. When the police approached the vehicle, they noticed an odor of alcohol on the suspect’s breath, and that his eyes were bloodshot. Upon questioning, the suspect admitted he drank four beers. The suspect was then administered a field sobriety test, which he failed. Additionally, he submitted to a Breathalyzer test, which revealed a blood alcohol concentration of .127%. He was arrested for DUI and transported to a hospital for blood testing; however, he refused to submit to a blood test after he was read the chemical testing warnings.

The suspect, who was charged with a DUI, filed a pre-trial motion to dismiss the charge on the grounds he had a constitutional right to refuse to undergo the blood test. As such, he argued his refusal to submit to the test should be suppressed from evidence.  The court denied the suspect’s motion and allowed the prosecution to introduce evidence of the suspect’s refusal of the blood test, and the suspect was subsequently convicted of DUI.

The suspect filed a motion for reconsideration of his motion to dismiss, averring that the Birchfield decision barred implied consent laws from stating that motorists consent to criminal penalties for failing to submit to a blood test, and therefore, testimony regarding his refusal should have been inadmissible. The trial court granted a new trial in which the prosecution was not allowed to introduce evidence of the suspect’s refusal to submit to a blood test, and the Commonwealth appealed.  While the suspect argued he had a constitution right to refuse the test and should not be subject to stricter penalties for exercising that right, the Commonwealth argued it was not unconstitutional to introduce the suspect’s refusal to submit to the blood test as evidence of guilt at trial.

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The Supreme Court’s holding in Birchfield v. North Dakota, continues to affect how Pennsylvania DUI cases are prosecuted. In Birchfield, the Supreme Court held that police officers could not subject DUI suspects to warrantless blood tests or impose increased criminal penalties for refusing a blood test. Before the Birchfield ruling, Pennsylvania DUI suspects were advised that they would face enhanced criminal penalties if they refused blood tests. Those warnings, which were known as the DL-26 form, were modified post-Birchfield to remove language warning of increased criminal penalties. The new form, DL-26B, however, warns of the possibility of increased civil penalties for failing to submit to a blood test, which has led to confusion among DUI suspects as to what penalties may be imposed for failing to submit to the test.

Recently, in Commonwealth v. Miller, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that police officers do not have an affirmative duty to advise a DUI suspect they will not face enhanced criminal charges if they refuse a blood test. As such, if a DUI suspect voluntarily consents to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test, the results of the test are admissible, regardless of the suspect’s belief that he will face more severe penalties if he refuses to submit to the test.

In Miller, the suspect was arrested under the suspicion of DUI and then read the revised DL-26B form, which no longer includes warnings of increased criminal penalties for failing to submit to a blood test. The suspect, who had previously been arrested for DUI and read the prior DL-26 form, believed he would received criminal penalties for failing to submit to the blood test and therefore consented to the test. At his trial, the suspect filed a motion to suppress evidence of his blood alcohol concentration test results, arguing his consent was invalid because, based on his prior experience, he believed he would face criminal penalties if he did not submit to the test. The trial court granted the suspect’s motion and the Commonwealth appealed. On appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that the suspect’s subjective belief did not provide grounds for the suppression of the blood alcohol concentration test results.

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Many people mistakenly believe they must submit to a blood test if they are detained due to suspicion of DUI. While this used to be true, the Supreme Court’s decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota changed the legal landscape throughout the country with regards to the use of blood draws in the prosecution of DUI cases. The Birchfield holding has been applied by Pennsylvania courts in overturning DUI convictions based on the results of blood tests, where consent was improperly obtained prior to the test. If you are arrested for suspicion of DUI in Pennsylvania, it is important that you know your rights and protections under the law. If you did not knowingly and voluntarily consent to the administration of a blood test in your Pennsylvania DUI case, the prosecution may not be able to use the results of the blood test against you.

In a recent case ruled on by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth v. Evans, it was held that where an individual only consents to a blood test due to fear of criminal penalties which would be imposed for refusing the test, the consent is not valid. In Evans, Evans was arrested on suspicion of DUI and taken to a hospital for a blood alcohol test. Prior to the administration of the test, the arresting officer gave Evans an implied consent warning but advised him if he did not submit to a blood test he would face stiffer criminal penalties.

At his trial, Evans filed a motion to suppress the results of his blood test, arguing that he was coerced into allowing his blood to be drawn for the test due to the threat of more severe punishment. As Evans did not believe he voluntarily consented to the blood test, he argued it constituted an unreasonable search that violated his constitutional rights and the results of the test must be suppressed. The arresting officer testified that he requested Evans submit to a blood test at the time of his arrest, and advised Evans if he did not agree to the blood test his license would be suspended for a minimum of twelve months. Further, Evans was advised that if he had previous DUI convictions he would be subject to the same penalties as if he was convicted at the highest rate of alcohol. The officer stated that following the warning, Evans consented to the test. Evans testified that he could not recall much of the evening, other than being told he would not go to jail if he consented to the test.

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

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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In a recent Pennsylvania DUI case, the state intermediate court recently affirmed the appellant’s sentence imposed following her convictions of driving under the influence of a controlled substance, operating a vehicle without a valid inspection sticker, and operating a vehicle without evidence of emission inspection.

On June 28, 2016, a Pennsylvania trooper was on traffic enforcement duty in East Lampeter Township when he observed a red car with expired inspection stickers. When the car passed his location, the trooper made a U-turn to pursue the vehicle.

The trooper caught up with the car and initiated a traffic stop. He informed the driver, the appellant, that he had pulled her over for an inspection violation, and he requested her license, registration, and proof of insurance. According to the trooper, it took the appellant more time to gather her information than it would for an average person during a non-DUI vehicle stop, and the appellant had difficulty locating her license, even though it was visible in her wallet. The trooper also noticed that the appellant’s pupils were “extremely constricted,” her speech was slurred, and she exhibited delayed reactions. The trooper asked the appellant whether she had taken any kind of medication, and she replied that she was on Adderall and Metformin. The trooper then asked the appellant whether she had taken any narcotics, and she replied that she has a prescription for oxycodone to manage pain and that she had taken some the previous evening.

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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.

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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.

A 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.

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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In October 2016, a lower court granted a defendant’s motion to dismiss the charges filed against him in July 1990 based on a violation of Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 600 (prompt trial). On appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the Commonwealth argued that the trial court abused its discretion in granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The appeals court agreed and remanded, finding the defendant could not avail himself of the protections of the speedy trial rule if he himself was responsible for the delay.

The defendant was charged with DUI and reckless driving in 1990. Soon afterward, a preliminary hearing was held, and the defendant was arraigned. In November 1990, the defendant failed to appear at court, and the judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest. In the intervening 26 years, the defendant was arrested and incarcerated multiple times in various jurisdictions and resided at the same address for at least the first nine of these years. Sometime in the fall of 2016, the defendant received a mailing from the Sheriff’s office indicating that a bench warrant existed for his arrest and that he should turn himself in. He turned himself in in October 2016. The bench warrant was lifted, and a pretrial conference was scheduled.Soon afterward, the defendant filed an Omnibus Pretrial Motion, alleging that his rights under Rule 600 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure were violated and that the charges should be dismissed. He further argued that the breathalyzer test results should be suppressed as a result of a failure to comply with the appropriate regulations pertaining to breath testing. At the conclusion of a hearing, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 600. The Commonwealth appealed.

Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 600 was designed to protect a defendant’s speedy trial rights, as well as society’s right to effective prosecution of criminal cases. The rule mandates that a defendant must be tried on criminal charges no later than 365 days after the criminal complaint is filed. However, periods of delay caused by a defendant are excluded from the computation of the length of time of any pretrial incarceration.