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Pennsylvania Court Overturns DUI License Suspension Due to Lack of Knowing and Conscious Refusal

Pennsylvania, like many states, has an implied consent law. In other words, pursuant to the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code, everyone who drives a motor vehicle in Pennsylvania is deemed to consent to the chemical testing of their breath if they are stopped for suspicion of DUI. As such, if a person refuses to submit to a breath test, their license must be suspended. The police must provide a DUI suspect with an O’Connell warning, however, and the suspect must knowingly refuse to submit to the test in order for civil penalties to be imposed. Recently, a Pennsylvania court addressed the issue of whether a driver that does not speak English could consciously refuse to submit to a breath test, ultimately ruling that he could not. If you are accused of a DUI offense or refusal to submit to chemical testing, it is smart to meet with a Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney to evaluate your options.

The Facts of the Case

It is alleged that a police officer witnessed the defendant driving erratically for several minutes. The officer then stopped the defendant and attempted to question him. The defendant, who did not speak or understand English, appeared intoxicated. Using hand gestures, the officer asked the defendant how much he drank that evening, and the defendant motioned that he had three alcoholic beverages.

Reportedly, the officer then read the defendant the O’Connell warning advising him that if he did not provide a breath sample, his license could be suspended. The warning was written in English. The officer then asked the defendant to submit to a breath test, but the defendant stated no. The defendant also refused to sign the portion of the form indicating he had been advised of the warnings therein. The department of transportation subsequently suspended the defendant’s license.  The defendant appealed the suspension, and the trial court granted his appeal. The department of transportation then appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

Knowing and Conscious Refusal

On appeal, the salient question was whether the defendant’s inability to understand English prevented him from making a conscious and knowing refusal of a chemical test, as he lacked the ability to comprehend the consequences of the refusal. The court found that, due to the language barrier, the defendant’s refusal was not valid. Thus, it affirmed the trial court’s order.

The court acknowledged that circumstances similar to those in the subject case made it nearly impossible for police departments to ensure that they could effectively communicate the consequences of refusal to all DUI suspects, but stated it could not disregard the need for motorists to have the ability to make a conscious and knowing choice with regard to chemical tests.

Talk to a Trusted Pennsylvania DUI Defense Attorney

People who refuse to submit to breath tests may suffer civil penalties and could still be convicted of DUI offenses as well. If you are charged with refusal or a DUI crime, it is in your best interest to talk to an attorney. Zachary B. Cooper is a trusted Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer who can advise you of your rights and help you to seek the best legal result available under the facts of your case. You can reach Mr. Cooper via the form online or at (215) 542-0800 to set up a meeting.