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Pennsylvania Court Holds Expert Testimony Not Needed to Convict of DUI General Impairment

If you are stopped for suspicion of a DUI but do not submit to a blood or breath test, the state can nonetheless use circumstantial evidence to charge you with DUI. Typically, in absence of chemical testing, the most detrimental evidence against a DUI suspect is the results of a field sobriety test, which is usually relayed to the court and jury through the testimony of the officer that conducted the test. It is not necessary for the officer testifying regarding the results of the test to be certified as an expert or have actually administered the test, however.

This was recently illustrated in a case in which the Superior Court of Pennsylvania upheld a defendant’s DUI conviction, despite the fact that the officer who testified at trial regarding the results of the field sobriety test was not an expert and had merely observed the test from afar. If you are currently facing Pennsylvania DUI charges, it is prudent to speak with an experienced attorney to discuss what evidence the state may use against you and possible defenses to your charges.

The Defendant’s Accident and Subsequent Charges

Allegedly, the defendant drove through an intersection and struck another car, tearing off the front bumper. A police officer responded to the accident and noticed that the defendant’s speech was slurred and her eyes were red and glossy. The defendant admitted she had been driving and stated she took a muscle relaxant. The officer called for the acting sergeant to administer field sobriety tests. During the test, the defendant was unable to count her steps or maintain her balance, and could not properly blow into the breath test machine. She was then transported to a hospital where she refused to undergo a blood draw. She was subsequently charged with DUI general impairment. During the trial, the officer who originally responded to the accident testified as to the results of the field sobriety test. The defendant was convicted of DUI general impairment, after which she appealed.

Evidence Needed to Prove DUI General Impairment

The defendant raised several issues on appeal, including whether the trial court erred in permitting the officer who responded to the accident but did not administer the field sobriety test to testify regarding the results. The court stated that the for a charge of DUI general impairment the State must prove both that the defendant was operating a motor vehicle and that he or she was under the influence of alcohol to a degree that rendered him or her unfit to drive safely. The court noted that there were no particular restraints on the evidence the State may use to prove DUI general impairment and stated that the State could introduce evidence of a defendant’s behavior, including his or her ability to pass a field sobriety test.

In the subject case, the court found the evidence more than sufficient to uphold the defendant’s conviction. The first element of the crime, proof the defendant was driving, was met via the defendant’s own admission. As to the second element, evidence of impairment, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the investigating officer’s testimony regarding the defendant’s field sobriety test was inadmissible lay opinion testimony because the court had not certified the officer as an expert. The court held that a layperson is permitted to testify as to certain behavior indicating intoxication. Additionally, the court noted that the officer’s testimony regarding the defendant’s behavior was not limited to defendant’s poor performance on the field sobriety test, but also included the officer’s observations regarding the defendant’s inability to keep her balance and slurred speech. As such, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Consult a Seasoned Pennsylvania DUI Attorney Regarding Your Case

Whether a DUI defendant is convicted depends on what evidence the State can introduce against him or her. If you are charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania, you should consult a Pennsylvania DUI attorney to analyze the facts surrounding your arrest. Zachary B. Cooper is proficient in handling Pennsylvania DUI cases and will vigorously defend you against the charges you face. He can be contacted at (215) 542-0800 to schedule a meeting.

More Blog Posts:

Failure to Obtain Proper Consent Prior to Administering a Blood Test Results in Overturn of Pennsylvania DUI Conviction, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, May 29, 2018