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Pennsylvania Court Discusses Grounds for Vacating DUI Convictions

People involved in fatal DUI collisions will often be charged with numerous crimes. In order to establish their guilt, the Commonwealth generally must only prove their conduct was the cause of the fatal crash. As discussed in a recent Pennsylvania case, the actions of the victims of the crash do not impact the defendant’s guilt. If you are accused of a DUI offense, it is smart to talk to a Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer regarding your possible defenses.

Factual and Procedural Background

It is alleged that in November 2018, the defendant attended a gathering, smoked marijuana, and later consumed alcohol and cocaine with the decedent. Afterward, the defendant agreed to drive the decedent home. While driving at an excessive speed of 93.2 mph in a 50 mph zone, the defendant crashed into a disabled tractor-trailer, killing the decedent and severely injuring himself. The defendant’s toxicology report revealed a blood alcohol content of 0.19 percent, and he claimed memory loss after his first drink.

Reportedly, the Commonwealth charged the defendant with multiple offenses, including Involuntary Manslaughter and DUI. After a jury trial in July 2022, the defendant was convicted of Homicide by Vehicle while DUI, Homicide by Vehicle, and DUI. He then appealed.

Grounds for Vacating DUI Convictions

The defendant raised two issues on appeal. First, he challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions, arguing that the decedent’s actions, including drinking and asking for a ride, were substantial reasons for his death. He also contended that he was not reckless since he was unaware of the disabled tractor-trailer.

The court disagreed, however, noting that the Commonwealth only needed to prove the defendant’s reckless or grossly negligent conduct was a direct cause of the decedent’s death to obtain a conviction, regardless of the decedent’s actions. Further, to secure a Homicide by Vehicle while DUI conviction, the Commonwealth needed to demonstrate that the defendant unintentionally brought about the death of another individual due to driving in violation of the DUI statute, which the Commonwealth did in the subject case. The court also found that the defendant’s arguments lacked coherence and cited his failure to meet briefing requirements.

Second, the defendant claimed an error in jury instructions regarding the predicate traffic offense. However, since he failed to raise this issue in his 1925(b) Statement, the court deemed it waived. Overall, the court affirmed the judgment of sentence, concluding that the defendant had waived his challenges to sufficiency and jury instructions.

Talk to a Skilled Pennsylvania DUI Defense Attorney About Your Charges

The Commonwealth bears the burden of producing sufficient evidence to demonstrate guilt in DUI cases, and if it cannot, the defendant should be deemed innocent. If you are accused of a DUI crime, it is prudent to talk to a lawyer about your options for protecting your interests. Attorney Zachary B. Cooper is a skilled Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney with ample experience helping people navigate criminal proceedings, and if you hire him, he will advocate zealously on your behalf. You can contact Mr. Cooper through the online form or at (215) 542-0800 to arrange a free and confidential conference.