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Pennsylvania Court Addresses the Effect of Post-Birchfield Changes in the Law in DUI Cases

The Birchfield ruling by the United States Supreme Court, which held that warrantless blood draws were unconstitutional, created a ripple effect in Pennsylvania DUI cases and DUI cases throughout the country. While the Birchfield decision immediately effected the warnings and chemical testing administered to Pennsylvania DUI suspects, it took longer for the Pennsylvania statute regarding criminal penalties for refusing to submit to chemical testing to be modified. Recently, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania addressed the issue of whether the delay in modifying the statute constituted grounds for a motion to suppress the results of chemical testing, ultimately ruling that it did not.  If you are facing Pennsylvania DUI charges it is important to retain a seasoned DUI defense attorney who can explain recent changes in DUI law and how those changes may affect the outcome of your case.

Circumstances Surrounding the Defendant’s Arrest and Chemical Testing

It is alleged that the defendant was stopped for a traffic violation. Upon approaching the defendant’s vehicle, the officer who stopped the defendant observed an odor of alcohol and noticed that the defendant had slurred speech and glassy eyes. The officer administered a field sobriety test and preliminary breath test to the defendant, and then transported the defendant to a medical center for a blood draw. Prior to the blood draw, the defendant was read a warning, which was modified from its prior form to omit any language regarding increased criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a blood test. The defendant signed the form and submitted to the test.

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with DUI – high rate of alcohol. Prior to his trial he filed a motion to suppress the results of his blood test, arguing that his consent was not voluntary because enhanced criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a blood test still existed at the time of his arrest and the police violated Pennsylvania law by refusing to warn him of those penalties. The defendant’s motion was denied, and he was convicted of the DUI charge, after which he appealed.

Birchfield’s Effect on DUI Law in Pennsylvania

On appeal, the court found the defendant’s reasoning unsound and affirmed the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress. The court explained that following the Birchfield decision, PennDOT revised the warning administered to DUI defendants within one week, to remove warnings mandated under Pennsylvania law regarding increased penalties for refusing to submit to a blood test. The Pennsylvania Superior Court subsequently held that imposing increased criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a warrantless blood test was unconstitutional. Then, thirteen months after the warning was modified, the statutory provision that allowed for greater criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a blood test was removed.

The court did not adopt the defendant’s reasoning that because the statutory provision imposing greater penalties was still part of the law at the time of his arrest and he was not warned of any additional criminal penalties for refusing to submit to the test, the blood draw violated Birchfield. Specifically, the court stated that because as a matter of law, the defendant could not be subjected to such penalties at the time of his arrest, they were not a potential consequence of a refusal to submit to a blood test, and the defendant was not owed a warning regarding such penalties. As such, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak with a Trusted Pennsylvania DUI Attorney

If you are charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania you should speak with a trusted a seasoned Pennsylvania DUI attorney regarding the facts of your case and your available defenses. Attorney Zachary B. Cooper will aggressively advocate on your behalf to help you protect your liberties. Mr. Cooper can be reached at (215) 542-0800 to schedule a meeting.

More Blog Posts:

Pennsylvania Court Explains Sufficiency of Evidence of DUI General Impairment,Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, February 25, 2019