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Pennsylvania Appeals Court Upholds DUI Conviction After Defendant Was On Drugs in “Therapeutic Range”

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.

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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.

Based on his observations, the trooper asked the appellant to exit the car and submit to field sobriety tests. She indicated that she had a back or leg issue, but she agreed to perform the tests. According to the trooper, her performance on each of the tests showed signs of impairment. The trooper placed the appellant under arrest for suspicion of DUI and transported her to the police station for an evaluation by a drug recognition expert (“DRE”).

The DRE evaluated the appellant using the DRE program’s 12-step standardized process. Based on her observations, the DRE concluded that the appellant was likely under the influence of a central nervous system depressant and a narcotic analgesic. Additionally, the DRE informed the trooper that, in her opinion, the appellant was “incapable of safe driving due to those two drug categories.” The trooper recommended that the appellant be taken to the hospital for chemical testing.

The trooper transported the appellant to Lancaster General Hospital for a blood test. The trooper read her the implied consent warnings, as contained in the revised Pennsylvania State Police DL-26 form. She signed the DL-26 form to indicate that she had been advised of the implied consent warnings and consented to chemical testing. Her blood was drawn at the hospital. The toxicology report indicated the presence of amphetamine, oxycodone, and citalopram. The concentration of each substance was within the therapeutic range.

Following a bench trial, the appellant was convicted of the above-mentioned offenses. The trial court deferred sentencing, pending a drug and alcohol evaluation. The trial court sentenced her to six months of intermediate punishment, with the first two weeks to be spent on house arrest; ordered her to pay the mandatory fine of $1,000, plus costs; and suspended her driving privileges for 12 months.

On appeal, the appellant raised the following issue:  whether the trial court erred as a matter of law in finding there was sufficient evidence to convict her of DUI, when the Commonwealth failed to produce sufficient evidence as to each material element of the offense charged and the commission thereof by the appellant beyond a reasonable doubt.

She claimed that there was insufficient evidence to support her conviction of DUI under 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3802(d)(2). Specifically, she argued that the Commonwealth failed to produce sufficient evidence that her ability to drive safely was impaired. She pointed out that all of the drugs in her system on the day of her arrest were prescription medications. Additionally, she asserted that the trooper did not observe her driving erratically. She attributed the indicia of intoxication (i.e., slurred speech, delay in producing documentation, and her performance on field sobriety tests) to “innocuous factors,” such as her missing partial denture, the presence of her dog in her vehicle, and pain from her underlying medical conditions.

Upon review, the appeals court concluded that the evidence presented at trial, viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as the verdict winner, was sufficient to establish that the appellant was under the influence of a drug or combination of drugs to a degree that her ability to drive was impaired.

The trooper, who has received training and certification in Advanced Roadside Impaired Drug Enforcement (“ARIDE”), noted that the appellant’s eyes were “extremely constricted,” her speech was slurred, and she exhibited delayed reactions. She told the trooper that she was on Adderall, Metformin, and oxycodone.

The trooper testified that when the appellant performed the walk-and-turn test, she exhibited four out of the eight clues that indicate impairment, i.e., taking too many steps, turning in the wrong direction or in the wrong manner, placing her feet side by side rather than heel to toe, and raising her arms. The trooper also testified that the appellant exhibited three out of the four clues that indicate impairment when she performed the one-leg-stand test, i.e., dropping her raised foot, swaying, and raising her arms. The trooper observed eyelid and leg tremors when the appellant performed the Romberg balance test, which can indicate the use of a stimulant or depressant.

The appellant told the DRE that she takes Metformin, Adderall, Xanax, and Celexa (citalopram) daily. She also admitted that she had taken oxycodone at approximately 11:00 a.m. Based on her evaluation, the DRE concluded that the appellant was likely under the influence of a central nervous system depressant and a narcotic analgesic.

For these reasons, the court affirmed the lower court’s judgment.

If you’ve been arrested for a DUI in Pennsylvania, you should hire an attorney at your earliest convenience. Zachary B. Cooper, who has significant experience in criminal defense, will zealously defend your DUI case. Call (215) 542-0800 for a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Pennsylvania Appeal Court Upholds DUI Defendant’s License Suspension Following Birchfield, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, March 15, 2018

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Holds Evidence Sufficient to Sustain Defendant’s DUI Conviction, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, February 15, 2018

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