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Pennsylvania Court Discusses Grounds for Reversing a DUI Conviction

While people think of DUI offenses as involving people driving cars while under the influence of alcohol, under Pennsylvania law, DUI charges can arise out of the operation of any motor vehicle while impaired by any substance. This was demonstrated in a recent Pennsylvania opinion in which the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction for DUI while under the influence of marijuana, which arose out of a crash that occurred when he was operating a dirt bike. If you are suspected of a DUI crime, you should talk to a Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney about your rights.

History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was involved in a collision while riding a dirt bike. The defendant admitted to smoking marijuana before driving and consented to a blood draw, which revealed the presence of THC and metabolites. He was subsequently charged with driving under the influence of a controlled substance and other related offenses.

It is alleged that during the trial, a police officer certified in crash reconstruction testified that the defendant collided with the other car involved in the crash at a high speed, which caused him to sustain injuries. The officer also testified that the defendant had a small bag of marijuana in his possession. The trial court found the defendant guilty and sentenced him to incarceration, license suspension, and fines, and later added a sentence of restitution. The defendant appealed.

Grounds for Reversing a DUI Conviction

The defendant raised two issues on appeal. First, he challenged the trial court’s acceptance of the police officer’s opinion about the accident, arguing that the officer was not qualified as an expert in traffic accident reconstruction. The court noted that the defendant framed his argument as an evidentiary sufficiency issue, but the court clarified that it reviews the sufficiency of all evidence, including challenged testimony.

The court ultimately affirmed the trial court’s decision, asserting that the police officer’s lay opinion met the requirements of Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence 701 and was rationally based on perception, helpful in understanding the testimony, and not based on specialized knowledge. The court held that the trial court reasonably inferred the defendant’s actions on a public roadway from the trooper’s conclusions.

In the defendant’s second argument, he challenged the constitutionality of the DUI law, arguing that portions of the Vehicle Code were no longer valid in light of the Medical Marijuana Act. However, the court deemed this issue waived, as the defendant had not raised it in the lower court, and issues not raised below are typically waived on appeal.

The court emphasized that even constitutional issues cannot be raised for the first time on appeal. The defendant’s failure to provide the trial court the opportunity to address his constitutional challenge resulted in the court affirming his conviction. The court also noted that the defendant did not possess a medical marijuana card, admitted to marijuana use, and had THC and an active metabolite in his blood. Consequently, the court affirmed the defendant’s sentence.

Talk to a Capable Pennsylvania DUI Defense Attorney

If you are accused of committing a DUI offense, it is important to talk to an attorney to understand and protect your rights. Attorney Zachary B. Cooper is a capable Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer, and if you hire him, he will relentlessly pursue the best outcome possible in your case.  You can reach out to him for a complimentary and confidential consultation by filling out the online form or calling (215) 542-0800.