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Pennsylvania Appeals Court Holds Evidence Sufficient to Sustain Defendant’s DUI Conviction

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.Legal News Gavel

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.

That summer, the defendant was sentenced to six months of incarceration, followed by 90 days of house arrest. He appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support his DUI conviction. Counsel thereafter petitioned to withdraw.

In order to withdraw, counsel must:  (1) petition the court for leave to withdraw, certifying that after a thorough review of the record, counsel has concluded the issues to be raised are wholly frivolous; (2) file a brief referring to anything in the record that might arguably support an appeal; and (3) furnish a copy of the brief to the appellant and advise him of his right to obtain new counsel or file a pro se brief raising any additional points that the appellant deems worthy of review.

The defendant’s counsel alleged he had examined the record and concluded the appeal was wholly frivolous. Counsel indicated that he supplied the defendant with a copy of the brief and a letter explaining his right to proceed pro se, or with newly retained counsel, and to raise any additional issues he believed might have merit. Counsel also submitted a brief, setting out in neutral form the sole issue counsel identified that would arguably support an appeal and explaining why he believed the claim was frivolous.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court held that counsel had satisfied the procedural requirements for withdrawal. Accordingly, it proceeded to conduct its own review of the proceedings and rendered an independent judgment as to whether the appeal was, in fact, wholly frivolous.

In order to be found guilty under section 3803(b)(5), an individual must have violated section 3802 (DUI-general impairment) when a minor under 18 years of age was an occupant in the vehicle when the violation occurred. Pursuant to section 3802(a)(1), an individual may not drive, operate, or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle after imbibing a sufficient amount of alcohol such that the individual is rendered incapable of safely driving, operating, or being in actual physical control of the movement of the vehicle.

Here, officers testified that the defendant had his vehicle double-parked in the middle of a two-lane road with its hazard lights activated. Because of the way the car was positioned, no traffic could pass by the defendant’s vehicle without crossing the center double-yellow line of the roadway. The defendant attempted to drive away when he noticed the officers. When one of the officers approached the driver’s side door of the defendant’s car, he saw two juvenile passengers in the vehicle. Upon exiting the car, the defendant could not maintain his balance, had slurred speech, could not follow directions, smelled strongly of alcohol, looked disheveled, and had bloodshot eyes. The officers found unopened beer inside the vehicle. The defendant performed very poorly on field sobriety tests and even admitted to the officers that he had been drinking.

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, together with all reasonable inferences therefrom, the court concluded that the jury could have found that each and every element of section 3803(b)(5) was established beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, the court affirmed.

If you are arrested for a DUI, you should hire a capable attorney as soon as you can. Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney Zachary B. Cooper, who has significant experience defending DUIs, can vigorously argue your case. Call (215) 542-0800 for a consultation to discuss your legal options.

More Blog Posts:

Pennsylvania Superior Court Holds Lower Court Properly Suppressed DUI Defendant’s Blood Draw Evidence, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, January 19, 2018

Pennsylvania Superior Court Denies DUI Defendant Post-Conviction Relief, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, October 18, 2017

Pennsylvania Superior Court Denies DUI Defendant Post-Conviction Relief, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, September 15, 2017